Saturday, October 09, 2004

Adventures in Biking

Saturday was quite an adventurous day, spent mainly on our bicycles. Being without a car this weekend turned us into semi-homebodies. We slept late and were finally roused from our slumber by the arrival of the Terminex man. He tried to call first, but for some reason our cell phone service was spottier than usual this weekend. We rarely use the house phone, so he didn't have that number. I had assured him that we would be home all day, so when no one answered he just came over.

A few weeks ago, I saw wasps searching for a place to nest on our front porch, so my husband and I had doused them with household cleaners (the most lethal thing we had on hand). Although I didn't realize it, the little suckers had moved to the garage and built a nest back there; the bug man found them and sent them to wasp heaven. I know I am overly paranoid when it comes to bugs infesting my home, but I just don't want them to get a foothold so we have quarterly pest control service. I know that it makes a difference because our neighbor in the mirror unit got an infestation of ants, whereas we have no problem with them. She started up bug service, too, and that has ended her problems.

After that was done, my husband and I decided to buzz around town on our bikes to check out the porch sales. It was rather late, so we knew that all the good items would be long gone. But being on bicycles limited what we could buy anyway; I don't think we could have balanced exercise equipment or patio furniture on our little bike racks! We thought it would just be fun to see how many people were participating and how well sales had gone.

Most of the people we chatted with had done quite well. Their larger items were gone, and they tended to have only a few odds and ends left. I got a trash can for my bedroom, which I somehow managed to secure onto the bike rack. The only peculiarity was that I had to sit way forward on my seat because it was right up against my butt. I must have been quite a sight, pedaling along with that trash can for a backrest!

After checking out several of the sales, we decided to head to Max's (Market Street Cafe) for lunch. My husband never gets tired of them, and I can usually find something tasty. Their food is pretty much diner-style items like burgers, meatloaf, and open-faced turkey sandwiches. They have wonderful crinkle-cut french fries, not the nasty, coated, skinny ones like McDonald's.

We parked our bikes in the rack between the local travel agency and the Town Tavern. Chained in the same rack was a forlorn, rusting ten-speed that I've seen there for months. I doubt that its chain could even move anymore, and even if it could, there would be no way to actually ride it because it has no seat. Abandoned bikes seem to be a common sight in town lately. Just the night before, in a different rack, we saw a bike with a tattered seat and flat tires that has been around forever too. Skippy, the rusty Dodge Dart that welcomed visitors to town on Celebration Avenue, is long gone, but I'm thinking that the seatless bike could take his place as our new emissary.

I was a bit worried about leaving the garbage can unattended but knew it would look crazy to carry it into Max's. Despite our reputation as a no-crime town, I've heard of everything from bikes to scooters to mail being stolen. My husband put things into perspective: "If someone steals a garbage can, they're welcome to it because they obviously need it worse than we do." So with those words of wisdom, we headed off to lunch.

Max's was quite busy; downtown, in general, was buzzing with both locals and Columbus Day tourists. The wait for seating was about 10 minutes, and soon enough we were sitting down to a lunch of salmon burgers and fries (make mine topped with bacon and cheese, please).

The bike trip downtown hadn't been too hazardous, although we noticed that Celebration Avenue had a lot more traffic than usual. Much of it seemed to consist of SUVs and pickup trucks loaded down with porch sale finds. We saw a constant parade of vehicles laden with furniture and other bulky "treasures." We haven't lived in our house long enough to have aquired enough excess stuff to sell, but when we do, we'll surely participate.

After lunch, my husband decided that he had a wild craving for a drink from Planet Smoothie, located in the Water Tower Place shopping center. This involves biking over the Celebration Avenue bridge with the narrow "maze" side walks and crossing several hazardous intersections, including the entrance to 417. We've done it before without getting splattered (actually, my husband has done it many more times than me because he is the more adventurous bicyclist). On this day, a nice, cold smoothie sounded good, and we weren't in a hurry to get anywhere, so I said, "Why not?"

Why, indeed! I had no idea that we were about to embark on a perilous adventure in biking. The traffic was absolutely ceaseless; besides the yard sales, I think people were being drawn in to the Disney liquidation sale at the grade school. There was an endless conga line of cars, many with the seeming intent of scoring fifty points by nailing a cyclist. The narrow sidewalks of the bridge were the least of our worries; getting across the street in one piece at the intersection on its other side was the much greater challenge.

We braved the 417 ramps, and then came the quest to actually enter Water Tower Place without getting run down by the cars turning in. The entrance is a quite a danger, as there is no traffic light, and Celebration Avenue is a busy road. There has already been at least one automobile accident, and I had no desire to become the next statistic, especially on a bike.

Once inside the shopping center area, I thought that things would calm down, but they were actually worse. Between the cars (many of which seemed lost) and the construction equipment, it was like being trapped in some computer role-playing game, with a new danger lurking around every corner.

Actually, while all these melodramatics were going through my mind, my husband was tooling along as though he didn't have a care in the world. I stopped and dismounted at all the busy intersections, walking my bike across, while he just zipping along, somehow timing it perfectly to cross between the traffic. He had an instinctive sense of the traffic light timing. He would get way ahead, then pause to wait while his wimpy wife walked her bike across the roads and struggled to remount without dislodging the trash can. We must have been quite a sight.

By the time we finally reached Planet Smoothie, I was exhausted and dripping sweat. My husband looked as chipper and energetic as when we first started out. When he goes biking on his own, his route takes him all the way back to the high school and then up to North Village and out to the town entrance by the Celebration Place office buildings. For him, our litle excursion was just a warm-up (although he did admit that the traffic was heavier than usual).

A nice orange smoothie made me feel better, but the ride had been much more treachorous than I'd expected. We were planning to bike up to 192 on Sunday and take the bus to our mailbox, but now I had no desire to repeat the trip. I said, "Why don't we just get that over with now?" Oops, we didn't have the mailbox keys with us! It had never even crossed our minds to take them, since that was on Sunday's agenda.

At this point, I decided that I'd rather take the long way home. If we passed the office buildings and took Celebration Boulevard, we could stay on the sidewalks and avoid most of the crossings and traffic. My husband was very agreeable, as he looks for any excuse to lengthen his bike rides.

We pedaled down Celebration Boulevard, which was deserted compared to Celebration Avenue, and entered town from the opposite direction. Then we headed downtown via Campus Street; we were out of cream, which is a life necessity since we are major coffee drinkers, so we needed to make a quick stop at Goodings.

Once we got home, unbelievably my husband said, "See you in a little while. I'm going out for more biking." He was serious! I definitely married a glutton for punishment. Myself, I collapsed onto the couch. I had some Disney cruise quotes to do for my travel agency, but first I thought I'd have a short rest. "Short" turned into an extended period, as I never stirred until hubby returned an hour later.

Last year, we didn't have a car at Christmas time, so we did a similar trip into even more hazardous territory; we biked to Logan's Steakhouse across 192 and then went to the Publix. It wasn't nearly as challenging as this time around. I think that the opening of Water Tower Place, coupled with the yard sales and the Disney liquidation sale drawing lots of people into town, added to the hazards.

As it turned out, we didn't have to repeat the biking adventure on Sunday. We ended up going out to dinner with a neighbor and stopping at our mailbox on the way home. (by the way, for new residents who might be thinking of getting a box: If there is a wait list at the post office, there is a UPS Store with boxes right in Water Tower Place. It didn't exist back when we rented our box, and because I have a business that uses it as the mailing address, it would be too much of a pain to change it).

I like to eat at the various Disney World restaurants, but I didn't think there would be much availability with the Columbus Day holiday. I had initially tried to book Ohana at the Polynesian, which is a perennial favorite, but it was booked solid. That was no surprise; besides having great food, you get a wonderful view of the Wishes fireworks at the Magic Kingdom. They even dim the lights and pipe in the music during the show.

We ended up at Cape May at the Yacht and Beach Club; it was my first time there, and it turned out to be quite good. It was a "clam bake" buffet, with lots of shrimp, clams, and mussels. For those who don't like seafood, there were other goodies like carved beef and barbequed ribs. I am a salad person and enjoyed the various offerings, including a delicious seafood salad and ambrosia salad that could easily have been my dessert (although I had to sample the apple cobbler from the dessert bar).

All in all, it was an adventurous day, and I didn't have to feel as bad about consuming mega calories at a buffet because I knew I'd already worked at least some of them off.

I'm already working on the rental cars for our next two weekends at home. Last year, it was no problem to get a car through Priceline in October, and the best deals seemed to pop up at the last minute. This year, cars are scarce and expensive, even when it's not a holiday. I couldn't believe that rates of $200 per day were actually coming up last Thursday! I don't think we've ever paid more than $20 per day, and I considered that high; the norm can be as low as $13, and the average is $15 to $16 at the major on-site rental car agencies.

But I know that we can survive, even if we're relegated to our bikes and feet. If I survived the trip to Water Tower Place, I can survive anything!

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