Tuesday, April 05, 2005

The Town is A Hoppin'

As Spring Break draws to a close, things are winding down a bit. But over the past few weeks, culminating in a sea of humanity this weekend at the Art Fair, the town of Celebration has been a hoppin'.

The tourists flock to the Orlando area, and Celebration gets its fair share. I've noticed this when I head downtown for an ice cream treat at Herman's; usually there is only a handful of customers, but lately it's been quite crowded. The streets are packed with people who have that overwhelmed out-of-towner glaze in their eyes. Even the timeshare salespeople have been out in greater numbers than usual, feeding their pigeons a hearty breakfast at the Columbia. After all that food, the blood is sucked from their brains to their stomachs, rendered them even more mallable to the sales pitch.

My husband missed a chunk of Spring Break, as he had to spend last Monday through Friday in Chicago. It was my appointed task to pick him up at the airport Friday night, so during the evening I couldn't wander too far from Duloc Manor. I had to turn down in invitation to go to Joe's Crab Shack, so I vowed that when he got to town, he owed me a snow crab feast.

He called me from Midway Airport to warn me that his plane was running a bit late. We have a good system; he called me when it lands on tarmac at MCO, and by the time it has taxied to the terminal and he's taken the shuttle to the pick-up area, I'm usually approaching the Boggy Creek exit on 417.

I booted up my computer to do some work while I waited. A short while later, I heard a knock at the back door. My next door neighbors and their visitors were planning to walk downtown for some ice cream. Did I want to join them? You bet! I had already had an ice cream cone earlier that day, but I can always go for a glass of the fresh lemonade at Herman's. Besides, a brisk walk between East Village and downtown would help to negate some of the calories.

Our little East Village gang headed over to the boardwalk; my neighbors' little dog was in tow, too. She's smaller than my sumo kitties, and apparently she must resemble a nice little snack to the native wildlife. As we headed down the path that borders the lake behind East Lawn, I saw a huge bird swoop low over our heads before perching up in a tree. "What the heck is that?!" I exclaimed. As my eyes adjusted to the darkness and it began to emit an eerie, "Whooooo, whooooo," I realized that it was an owl. We saw two or three more as we made our way toward Lake Evalyn, but fortunately none of them was bold enough to actually try to carry off our poor little canine companion. They contented themselves with eyeing her from the trees.

As we approached town, the distant echo of voices became louder and we discovered quite a lively crowd of people. The streets were already blocked off in anticipation of the Art Fair on Saturday and Sunday, so pedestrians had free reign on Market Street and Front Street near the lake. Tables and chairs had been set up to accomodate the food booths that would spring up in the morning, so people were taking advantage of them to eat a snack or to just sit and chat or relax.

Our caravan headed directly to Herman's, where the lure of sugar in various forms was emitting its silent but powerful siren song. Inside, the line was amazingly long, snaking almost all the way around the store. Fortunately, the counter was well staffed, so it moved quite rapidly. Soon enough, I was staring at the frozen temptations that threatened to lure me away from the lemonade into Bigger and Badder Calorie Territory. One of my neighbors ordered Mississippi Mud, which is one of my downfalls (it was what I had gotten in the afternoon). Unfortunately, it was all sold out; I felt bad for her, but for myself it removed a large part of the temptation. She selected an alternate flavor, and I ordered my nice, cold, tart/sweet beverage.

I ended up drinking the whole glass of lemonade before our orders were even completed. Happily, Herman's offers free refills, so I was able to get my beverage topped off for the trip home. Before we headed back to East Village, we settled at one of the tables and enjoyed the hoppin' downtown atmosphere. One of my greatest pleasures is relaxing in downtown Celebration near the lake, enjoying an ice cream cone, or maybe some coffee from Barnie's, and chatting with friends. It was humid, but there was a pleasant little breeze to take most of the edge off.

Apparently, the lemonade was going straight to my bloodstream, and the scent was attracting hungry mosquitos from miles around. As Brazilian orphan Renaldo says in the Simpsons, "I am like sugar to them!" I had forgotten to take the required Deet bath before leaving the house, so now the insects were having a field day.

We were having so much fun that I nearly forgot the clock was ticking closer to 9 p.m. (my husband's originally scheduled arrival time). I had my cell phone is case he was trying to contact me, but since I knew he was running a little late, I figured we could make it home with plenty of time. The walk from downtown to East Village is only about 20 minutes, so we all reluctantly regrouped and headed home.

My husband ended up calling pretty close to 10 p.m. I fired up Canyonero, turned on the one of the crazy right-wing shows that seem to be all over the AM airwaves in the Orlando area, and headed to the Greenway. But wait...where were the insane rantings that I count on to entertain me behind the wheel? Apparently the regular broadcast was pre-empted by sports. I started playing "Spin the Dial" and finally found something that sounded like a news/talk station. I assumed that it was local until they launched into the weather forecast: Temperatures in the 40s and a chance of SNOW! Yikes! Eventually I figured out that I was picking up a broadcast from Cincinnati, Ohio. Curious about the awesome reach of AM radio waves, I flipped to 780, which is the news station that I listen to in Chicago. It was a bit scratchy, but I managed to pick up. How strange to be listening to news and commercials from the Windy City as I drove by the palm trees.

When I picked up my husband, he announced that he was hankering for a good meal. I was ready for bed, but when he mentioned Kobe (Japanese teppan-style restaurant with a location right across the street from Celebration), I allowed myself to be tempted. Actually, I had my doubts that they would be open, so I decided to leave it to chance. If they were, we'd indulge; if not, he'd be stuck with frozen pizza.

As we pulled into the parking lot, I could see that the restaurant was open. Then it dawned on me...I didn't have a coupon book! Kobe always has coupons in the local tourist rag sheets that you can pick up at shops and hotels. I am a notorious cheapskate who loves to save money wherever and whenever possible. Thus, I dragged my poor husband to the only nearby store that seemed to be open. It was optimistically dubbed a "grocery store," but I don't think Publix has anything to worry about. It had a weird tourist/Twilight Zone vibe that made me anxious to escape, especially since there were no coupon racks. Dejectedly, I resigned myself to paying full price at the restaurant.

When we went into the store, there was a man with two macaws who was shouting "Last call for parrot pictures!" Apparently it was a long "last call," because he was still at it when we emerged. It seems like anytime he saw a warm body within earshot, he yelled out, trying to entice them to pay for a picture with the birds. The two big parrots were making grumbly squawking noises that sounded like they were ready to go home. Eventually he must have done a true "last call," as they were all gone when we left Kobe after our meal.

I had filet, and it was as delicious as usual. I thought I'd be too tired to have much of an appetite, but I started drooling the moment I smelled that wonderful teppan cooking. The meat is always fork-tender, but I love the teryaki noodles and the fried rice almost as much. I think our dinner was supposed to come with ice cream at the end, but instead they just presented us with a bill. We were at the last table to be served (they seat you with other parties, so we were sitting with two other families), and I think they just wanted to get us all the heck out of there so they could close. Oh well, goodness knows we didn't need anymore calories.

The next day, we headed downtown to the Art Festival. The Spring Break crowds were out in droves, giving the event that special energy that I always enjoy. We got some snacks (and of course my husband had to get some Columbia Sangria), but this time we didn't find an art piece to purchase. I did end up buying something, though...an Art Festival t-shirt. On the way back to Canyonero, I stopped at the plant sale and bought some more flowers to adorn Duloc Manor's palatial gardens (okay, its little flower beds).

That evening, I got the snow crab legs that I had been denied on Friday, but for a while it dicey and it looked like I might be denied again. Some friends called to see if we wanted to head over to Joe's Crab Shack in Water Tower Place. This was around 6ish, on a Saturday night during peak tourist season. Add up those factors and you have a recipe for disaster. When my husband and I arrived, we found our friend outside, watching their children in the playground. Turns out they had been quoted a two hour wait! Two hours!

I found it hard to believe, since there were lots of empty tables outside. But as we waited, we noticed that the tables were never filled, even though the droves of people milling around were creating something of a fire hazard; I'm sure they were way over the fire marshall's suggested occupancy. My husband's theory was that they didn't have enough staff to handle the volume if all the tables were filled. He based that on the fact that a high percentage of the servers seemed to be wearing "Trainee" t-shirts.

After 40 minutes, we hadn't made much progress down the Golden Seating List, so we decided to throw in the towel. The poor kids were ravenous, and us adults were getting there, too. I suggested trying the Red Lobster near Old Town, which is absolutely enormous. Since Joe's was obviously hopeless, we jumped into our respective vehicles and headed off to the alternte seafood purveyor.

When I saw the jam-packed parking lot, I thought I might have made a grevious error. Then I realized that many people were parking by the restaurant but walking to Old Town. Whew! Perhaps the amusement park goers were scaring off potential restaurant customers, which could make the wait a little shorter. It was "only" a 30 minute wait, which sounded very attractive considering the situation at Joe's.

But once again, God proved His ironic sense of humor. We were seated pretty quickly and placed our order in gleeful anticipation. Then we waited for our meals...and waited...and waited. The time that we would have spent waiting for our seats was swapped with waiting for our food to come up. Oh well, at least we were seated at a comfy table, with alcoholic libations for the adults and biscuits to take the edge off the kids' hunger. Eventually our meals came out, and they were well worth the wait. Snow crab....ahhhhhhh! My guilty pleasure. I hate the idea of the poor little suckers getting boiled for my pleasure, but why do they have to taste so darned good?

Town was hoppin' on Sunday, too, but we mostly spent it around the house. The clocks were sprung forward on Saturday night for Daylight Savings Time, so it was a body-clock adjustment day. In the morning, I had my orientation at Celebration Fitness to learn how to use the strength training machine circuit. Then I did some gardening and handled the avalanche of travel agency calls that suddenly came in. Apparently Disney had sent out a subconscious beacon commanding the general public to book a Disney cruise. My husband had work to do, too, so it was a low-key day.

Things are calming down now. It will still be pretty busy for a while, but by the time early May rolls around, the crowds will be at their ebb before suddenly bursting forth in a summer tsunami of humanity that seems to peak with the Fourth of July. When the heat of summertime hits, the town will be a hoppin' once again.

You can email me at celebration@mailblocks.com

My Celebration website is www.celebrationinfo.com

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