Sunday, April 20, 2008

My Radio Tells Me to Do Things

I swear I'm not schizophrenic, but voices from my radio tell me to do things. They tell me where to go and give me commands that I must obey or risk getting hopelessly lost. No, it's not a sign of developing mental illness. It's simply the turn-by-turn service provided by OnStar in our new Saturn Vue.

The first time I tried it, it was rather disconcerting. You call OnStar with the console in your vehicle and tell them your destination. They locate your current position via GPS, then download it into the car where it plays on your radio speakers as you navigate the route. I like it much better than screen-based systems; I've had too many near collisions with tourists whose eyes were glue to the screen instead of the road. With OnStar, you simply listen while you keep your eyes safely on the road.

The other day we had lunch at Chevy's, and I told hubby, "Let's call up Onstar to get directions to Walgreens." Obviously we know our way there backwards and forwards, but I just wanted to show him how the system worked. He rolled his eyes and chided me for being in love with my new toys, but he humored me as I phoned up some poor, long-suffering OnStar operator who duly downloaded the instructions. Since I didn't actually know the address, I just told him that we needed to get to 192 and International Drive.

The disembodied voice coming out of the radio is rather disconcerting at first. It guided us onto I4 but was planning to have us exit at 192 instead of Osceola Parkway. Technically that would be more straightforward for a lost person, but it would also overshoot us a bit from our destination. Thus we totally confused the system by hopping off at Osceola.

The system chided us for going off-route and asked if we wanted directions to get back on the pre-planned route. You tell it yes or no, and it understands your voice commands. Freaky! Since we knew where we were going, hubby simply cancelled the trip.

All the bells and whistles have caused me to rename the new Vue. Originally I named it B2, since it's almost the same color as my husband's old Neon, long since given to my brother, driven into the ground, and mouldering in some junk yard. The Neon was named Bruiser, so B2 stood for Bruiser 2.

We don't usually give duplicate names, or if we do, the derivative is actually something different. For example, I once had a Hyundai named Magnum (after a roller coaster at Cedar Point) which had vanity plates matching its name. I bought a Neon and transferred the plates, so it also made sense to transfer the moniker. But I wanted it to be different, so Magnum 2 became Twoey, after the plant in "Little Shop of Horrors" (it was named Audrey 2 but Twoey was its nickname). Canyonero was my next car after Twoey, with its own set of plates and its own identity, christened in honor of the Simpsons ode to SUV excess.

B2 seemed like a rather dull name, but nothing else came to mind...until I realized that I had a car that talked to me and understood my voice commends. Duh! Anyone who came of age in the 1980s should known the perfect name for a sentient vehicle: Kitt!

Now B2 has a much more appropriate handle. Kitt seems to fit in terms of its intelligence and also somewhat its color. Although it isn't black, the dark blue can easily be mistaken for black in the right lighting. When it was nagging at me for getting off I-4 at the wrong exit, I briefly toyed with calling it Hal ("I can't let you do that, Barb. I'm going to have to disable to life support systems."), but it doesn't seem quite as malevolent as the 2001: A Space Odyssey computer.

Canyonero was a heck of a vehicle, but one thing it never did was talk to me. I still miss my rugged, loyal old Tek but I think that Kitt just might be a worth successor.

Friday, April 18, 2008

Goodbye Canyonero

It's never easy to say goodbye to a beloved member of the family. Even when they get old and crotchety and start to fall apart, you remember their younger glory days and are loathe to let go.

So it was for Canyonero, my trusty 2002 Pontiac Aztek that served us faithfully for six years and rolled safely through a Georgia ice storm to delivery hubby and I, along with two fish, three cats and a bird, safely from Chicago to Duloc Manor.

I have no photos of Canyonero, but the pics. below are an accurate representation:

I loved its boxy butt and its general homeliness. It was my first SUV, and I hate SUVs, so it was a way of subtly thumbing my nose even as I gave in to a desire for safety and space. At the time, I was driving a micro-Neon, so with 80% of the cars on the road being big, honkin' SUVs that could crush me flat I knew I had to get something to put me on equal footing. But that didn't mean I had to like it, and it pleased me to know that my hideous vehicle was borderline painful to look at. But that was then and this is now...there are much uglier vehicles than the Tek. Still, in its day it was considered...uh...unusual.

I came to love the Tek, which was well equipped at a reasonable price and which had tons of room and all sorts of little comforts. It even had take-away storage bags in the doors and a cooler between the driver and passenger seats. If they were still available, I would have bought a new one in a minute.

But alas, they are not and Canyonero was starting to show its age. First a power window problem, then the body control module. We had those things fixed; next, the air conditioning went out (which is a fatal flaw in Florida) and the brakes started squeaking. Was our beloved vehicle going to become a money pit? Sadly, we decided it wasn't worth the gamble.

Since Azteks have gone the way of the dodo and Florida orange groves, we studied up an decided on a Saturn Vue. It's still a GM product and, like the Tek, the base model is pretty loaded. Also, I am eligible for a GM supplier discount so we'd get a little money off the Saturn pre-set price. We wanted a 4cylinder base XE model with no extras and were almost 100 percent open on the color. Should be an easy purchase, right?


First, it's virtually impossible to find a 4 cylinder XE with no options. Most have the preferred package or a bunch of things we'd never use, like a CD changer and roof rails, that boost the price by hundreds of dollars.

Next up is a common Florida trick: loading them with dealer options that add no value, like paint protector and fabric coating ($599), window tint ($199), and pinstripe ($199). The actual cost is pennies on the dollar, but they boost dealer profit by upping the price of the car by $1000 or more. For some reason this was not as predominant in Illinois except at certain dealerships. In FL it seems to happen across the board.

Last but not least there's another money-waster that is as common in Florida as lizards and lovebugs, although it's a problem in other states too: the documentation fee. In theory, it's for filling out paperwork etc. although that would be akin to your doctor adding on a $25 receptionist fee and $15 paperwork generation fee to your office visit. Still, if it was reasonable I wouldn't balk. In Illinois it's capped right around $5o by law. In America's Wang, which has no such restriction, it can run anywhere from $299 to $99. That's almost pure profit! Thankfully (or so I thought), it's capped at $75 under the supplier program.

But as we started looking, I quickly discovered that the cap is "voluntary," and fully 50 percent of the dealers we spoke to didn't want to honor it. When I mentioned it to the first dealer we called, the person I spoke with acted as though I had just said, "Your mother wears combat boots and should have killed herself the day before you were born." Jeez, all I was asking for was something GM said I was entitled to! They promptly got crossed off the list.

The first one we actually visited in person also gave me guff about the doc. fee. They also didn't want to budget on the worthless extras, although they finally offered 'em at half price and acted like it was the best deal since Manhattan was purchased from the Indians for $24. Since we already had financing worked out, they would have had an easy sale if they'd simply sold us the vehicle at the pre-set supplier price with the proper doc. fee and without charges for the bogus extras. But they dug in their heels, so we walked.

We checked with another dealership that sounded good on the phone but that changed their tune when we walked in the door. Also, their XE Vues all had the preferred package which is a legitimate up-charge but which we just didn't want or need. It featured things like heating mirrors (uh, this is FLORIDA!) and a power seat. I still might have considered it but they, too, clung to the charges for padded extras so once again we hit the road.

We called another dealership that was amendable to the proper supplier price and doc. fee, but they just didn't have the car we wanted. Once again, their lot was full of preferred packages. Sigh! They said they could order a car to our specs, but there was no guarantee that the current rebates would still be in force.

At this point, we were feeling rather defeated. Maybe it was a sign that we should just keep Canyonero, fix the air conditioning and brakes, and pray for the best. Still, I am nothing if not a thorough researcher when I'm considering a big purchase. I found one more dealership that actually appeared to have two suitable Vues. No preferred package! Granted, they had $80 floor mats but I figured I could suck it up and pay for those if everything was in order.

I called to confirm that the cars were still available and explained right off the bat that I wasn't going to pay for bogus extras package. No problem. The cars actually had $1400 in dealer additions but that was removed from the equation up front. Then we got to the doc. fee and hit a sticking point; they would only go as low as $150. That rankled me; not so much the amount as the principle. If the GM program says $75 then that's what it should be. I hung up at an impasse but decided to take a ride out there. If I was standing there was a check in hand, perhaps they would make that final concession.

Hubby and I piled into Canyonero for one last shot at replacing it. We had already gotten a good quote for it at CarMax, so if we sealed the deal we'd be stopping there to sell it. My excitement at potentially finding the right Vue after such a long and fruitless search was tempered somewhat by feelings of melancholy at the prospect of losing my boxy maroon friend. Still, after all the game playing, hubby was only giving us 50/50 odds of making a deal so perhaps Canyonero would remain in the family after all.

At the dealership, we made a beeline for the Vues but were inadvertently heading for the used car section. Fortunately a salesman popped out to point us in the right direction. I explained that we had spoken to a manager over the phone and gave him our bottom line. He showed us the two suitable cars and then we went inside for the classic kabitzing with the manager.

At first I got the same $150 doc. fee line that I had gotten on the phone; at least they were as good as their word in removing the padded extras from the equation right off the bat. I reiterated that I had my bottom line and that I would buy right that moment if they would give on the $75. The manager and salesman went off for more discussion; as time ticked away, I asked hubby, "Want to go outside and look at the cars?" That's a virtually sure-fire way to hurry things up. They don't like you to leave the sanctity of the showroom; outside is much too close to leaving. Sure enough, we didn't even make it to the door before they intercepted us with the good news that we had a meeting of the minds on our numbers. We'd be getting our new Vue after all!

Now it was time to commit to a color. From the start, hubby's preference had been orange but those were virtually impossible to find, especially in a stripped down XE. I favored Gold Cashmere and Mystic Blue (he also liked the blue). I could have lived with the Sea Mist Green, but hubby hated it with a passion so we dismissed it out of hand. We also dismissed black because it's too dark and I want a visible car and white just because it doesn't ring our chimes. Silver seemed to be popular on the car lots, but although we didn't totally eliminate it hubby wasn't thrilled about it because it's the most common rental car color. He imagined being lost in a Disney parking lot, surrounded by dozens of silver Vues, frantically trying to isolate ours. I thought the two grays and Deep Blue were rather dark, although not intolerable, and maroon was pretty but the old wive's tale about red cars getting hit more often was dancing in the back of my head (even tho' maroon Canyonero was unscathed for six years).

Since the only two cars on the lot that fit our criteria were Deep Blue and Gold Cashmere, that narrowed things down considerably. I knew hubby was cringing at the Cashmere, although he would have deferred to me. But I knew he really liked the Deep Blue, as he once owned a Neon in almost the exact same color. We named that car Bruiser, since its paint was the type that shifts color depending on how the light hits it. It went from blue to purple to almost black. I gave my blessing to his choice and the Deep Blue car officially became Canyonero's replacement.

Paperwork always takes too darned long, but that's a given with car buying. We plugged through all the documents and signatures and probably made the finance person's day by buying an extended warranty. I know they're overpriced and Consumer Reports advises against them, but for us it was worth knowing we would have five years of bumper to bumper peace of mind, backed by GM (NEVER by an off-brand warranty). Ironically, every time we've bought one it has ended up more than paying for itself in car repairs somewhere down the line.

Eventually everything was signed and sealed. I made poor hubby go over the numbers just to make sure they didn't slip anything in; after our experiences at the other dealerships I was wary. But all was well, and soon enough the salesman was pulling our new car to the front with its first full tank of gas. It only had 7 miles on it and was still reeking of that wonderful new car smell. We named it B2 (i.e. Bruiser II) in honor of hubby's former blue car.

Next it was off to CarMax to sell poor Canyonero. I got lost making my way to 417 and had a chance to try out OnStar's navigation service firsthand (you get a year of free service with a new Vue). I have to say it was pretty cool!

Now I'll have to watch CarMax's site to see if they put Canyonero on their Orlando lot. I suspect they will, as CarMax seems to do a pretty good business in Teks. It only has 44,000 miles on it, which is great for a 2002. I hope that whatever new family buys it will love it as much as I did and get some more good years of use from it.

Goodbye,'s truly the end of an era!

Thursday, April 10, 2008

Toys at Sea

This morning I headed out to the Disney Wonder, not to embark on my 62nd cruise (that won't happen till next month), but rather to see the premier of "Toy Story: The Musical."

Actually it wasn't a premiere in the pure sense, since the show's been on board for a couple of weeks now. But it was new to me, and I was anxious to see what had replaced the long-running "Hercules," which had been a staple since the Magic was launched in 1998.

In all of our cruises, we've watched shows come and go; now only one, "Disney Dreams," remains from the beginning, and it was revamped/upgraded recently. Thankfully, the changes were all improvements. They added laser effects, spiffed up the flying, and added Pumba and Timon to the "Lion King" number.

"Disney Dreams" is the signature show, so I can't imagine they would ever change it too drastically. It's a real heartstring-tugger, aimed specifically at the Disney fanatics (such as myself) who make up the majority of their cruisers. It has numbers from such classics as Cinderella, Beauty and the Beast. The Little Mermaid (my favorite number), Aladdin, and Lion King. They're woven around the plotline of a little girl's dream: she wants to fly to the place where dreams come true, but she can only do it by finding her own magic. Fortunately, the Blue Fairy sends Peter Pan to help.

I've seen it so many times that I skip it occasionally now, but my husband never misses it when we sail. Since he's caught some matinees, as well as the regular evening showing, he's probably seen it over 65 times.

The other two original offerings in 1998 were "Hercules," which, as I mentioned, was just retired, and "Voyage of the Ghost Ship." Herc was very corny and didn't make much sense if you never saw the movie, but I still liked it. Hades, Pain and Panic always stole the show. There was some opportunity for ad-libbing, so they kept it fresh by continually updating many of the jokes.

Ghost Ship didn't last too long; it had one revamping, then was pulled altogether and replaced with "The Golden Mickeys." It was kind of dark and had no Disney characters at all; I think those two things played against it. It's a shame it wasn't released later, as with a little tweaking it could have been changed to take advantage of the current Pirate Fever. But alas, it was ahead of its time, and now it's merely the answer to a Disney Cruise Line trivia question.

I like "The Golden Mickeys," which has the theme of an awards show hosted by a relucant backstage hand. The best part is that it features Roy Disney and old-time footage of his uncle Walt. It's rare that you see Walt brought into a show; I love the connection and find it very touching. For a brief time, Whoopi Goldberg replaced Roy as the on-screen co-host, but thankfully he was restored to his rightful place in the show.

I'm probably partial to Golden Mickeys because it features two of my favorite, Stitch and Cruella, plus you've gotta love it when a giant Ursula sticks her giant tentacles almost literally into the first row.

The Magic also has "Twice Charmed," which is probably my current favorite. It's a twist on the Cinderella story, with Lady Tremaine and the wicked stepsisters appealing to their wicked fairy godfather Franco to help them set things "right." He sends them back in time and shrinks poor Cindy to mouse size. I love the masterful blending of drop-screens with the live action, and Franco's big dance number on a lighting staircase (think the sidewalk in "Billy Jean") is phenomenal. Sadly, since we usually sail on the Wonder, I only get to see "Twice Charmed" once or twice a year.

There was once another show called Cest Magique, which then morphed into Morty the Magnificent, but I think it had an even shorter run than Ghost Ship. Personally I liked the first version, but like Ghost Ship it didn't have Disney characters. It was very Cirque de Soliel-like, which apparently just didn't fly with the audiences. The Morty incarnation featured a plot of sorts, as well as Mickey Mouse, but it just never caught on.

Now comes the latest offering: "Toy Story: The Musical." It already has one big thing going for's based on one of the most popular Pixar movies. People always break into hysterical applause at the Toy Story number in Golden Mickeys, so this will give them a bigger dose.

I like the movie, although not nearly as much as my favorite Pixar flick, "The Incredibles." I'm a huge Syndrome fan and love the movie's commentary on the dumbing down of America, with memorable quotes like "When everyone is super, no one is" and "Everyone's special means that no one is." Toy Store has no such heavy philisophical undertone, save for the importance of friendship.

The shipboard Toy Story is an almost completely faithful adaptation of the flick. Obviously, some concessions had to be made for staging it in a limited timeframe and a relatively small area. But I have to hand it to DCL's creative team...they pulled it off much better than I ever imagined they could.

Toy Story takes the use of screens and sets to new heights. It's tricky transitioning from the full-sized human world down to the toy world, but the screens allow it to happen flawlessly, as well as to facilitate scene changes. Most of the scenes take place from the toys' perspective, although Andy and Sid do make their appearances (and you hear Spud barking frequently offstage).

There were some pyrotechnics too (of course there would have to be, considering that Sid plays a major role in the plot), but I was actually even more impressed with Buzz's spaceship. He makes quite an interest! You'll feel the same sense of awe that Andy's playthings do as they gather round.

One thing that distracted me when I originally saw photos of the show was that the various toys are not to the same scale as they are in the movie. For example, Rex is smaller and slinky dog is bigger in comparison to Woody and Buzz. But you pretty much have to chalk that up to the limitations of the stage. Even tho' I am rather anal retentive, I quit noticing the size thing pretty early on. Instead, I was drawn into marvelling at the costumes. You really think you're looking at characters right off the screen. You'll see Slinky Dog, Rex, Ham, and Mr. Potato Head, as well as the green soldiers and monkey from the barrel. The monkeys were the only ones that didn't work for me. Their costumes are orange cloth, which just doesn't jibe with the look of the toy. If you're not familiar with the movie, you might be hard pressed to guess what they are at first.

Woody, Buzz, and Bo Peep are "face" characters, as are (obviously) Andy and Sid. Woody and Buzz were both great in their roles, but the Sid was the total scene stealer. He's much more wicked and depraved in the play than in the movie, and he considers himself an artist of destruction. He brims with manic energy, and his songs are a total riot. I am a big villian fan, and this show gave me a whole new appreciation for Sid. In the final bows, he (or perhaps I should say "she," since he's played by a woman) got some of the loudest clapping and cheers.

The toys in Sid's room are recreated as faithfully as those in Andy's. I marveled at the staging of this show and said a silent prayer that it won't turn into a technical nightmare. But everything worked smoothly at the premiere, and the pace of the show made it seem to fly by.

The only effects that didn't really "work" for me were the first two times that Buzz tries to fly. If you're familiar with the movie, you'll recall that in his first attempt he makes a spectacular showing thanks to a Hot Wheels car and skateboard. The second time, in Sid's house, he jumps off a railing and his not successful, falling and breaking off his arm.

Obviously, skateboards and railings and the like are not too easy to show on stage. The way it's handled just didn't look genuine due to the limitations. I promise you won't be disappointed at the end when Woody and Buzz are launched with the rocket tho'.

You also can't help but love the little green alien dolls in the claw machine. Next to Sid, they were my second favorite thing. I could tell by the reaction of the audience members around me that virtually everyone in the theater shared my opinion.

Overall it's a cute show, and even if you don't like "cute," you can't help but marvel at the technical aspects. I'm looking forward to our next cruise in May so I can see it again and catch all the little details I most likely missed.

It will also be interesting to see if the Toy Story number in the Golden Mickeys is replaced in the near future or if the two with co-exist. I suspect the latter, since Toy Story isn't on the Magic so it's their only dose of Woody.

After the show, it was very difficult to drag myself off the ship. Since I, along with the rest of the crowd, were only there to see the show, we had to disembark immediately once it was over. As I headed down the gangplank, I could see the lucky cruisers milling around in the terminal, eager to begin their "wonder"ful weekend. How I would have liked to join them! But work and responsibility awaited me, so I reluctantly boarded the bus for home.

Oh well, next time I see it I won't have to worry about disembarking so quickly. And even though it will be cruise #62, I'll have yet another new (well, mostly new) thing to look forward to.

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Sunday, April 06, 2008

The Monsoons Continue

It looks like the rainy season has come to Florida early this year. In a continuation of yesterday's wet and wild weather, today featured almost non-stop downpours too. There was a lull in the morning that allowed us to grab some hot tub time, but it started raining midway through our soak and we just got out in time to avoid the thunder and lightning.

I've been feeling very theme park-deprived lately, but it wasn't a good day to even remotely consider a Disney or Universal jaunt. Well, actually we did go to Disney, but it was to enjoy a delicious dinner at Artist Point rather braving any of the parks.

Although we would have loved Ohana, getting reservations there is only slightly less difficult than finding a really good episode of "South Park" in the last two seasons. We can usually get into Artist Point or Jiko; hubby was dead set on the former, since he had a taste for mussels and their nectar-of-the-gods cream of mushroom soup.

I called WDW-DINE and managed to secure a 6 p.m. reservation. We figured that if we could just make it through the waterfall pouring down the back door stoop and into the Family Truckster, we'd have it made. It's a pretty easy jaunt to the Wilderness Lodge; turn at the second start on the right (or more realistically at World Drive) and go straight on till morning, or at least till you hit the Magic Kingdom parking toll booth.

We dashed out to the car and sloshed down the sodden streets, heading towards our culinary reward. Thankfully we have a Disney Dining Experience card, which gives us valet parking. Even with a few bucks for the tip, it's well worth not having to swim from the nether reaches of the tourist-clotted parking lot to the hotel.

The card also gives you 20 percent off your bill, including alcohol. There's an annual fee involved, but if you're a frequent diner at the Disney restaurants it quickly pays for itself. There was some controversy this year because when when you use your DDE card, an 18 percent gratuity is automatically slapped on your tab. I'm not really sure why it caused so much trauma; we tip 20 percent for good service anyway. But apparently many people were tipping on the discounted amount vs. the true bill, so this is a way to ensure that the servers get a fair tip.

The restaurant was more crowded than usual, which hubby attributed to the fact that everyone had been driven back to their hotels from the theme parks, meaning they all needed somewhere convenient to eat. We were seated at a nice window table for two that was out of the main thoroughfare, which we enjoyed. We watched the downpour from our cozy little spot, sipping our favorite drinks. Hubby's is wine, while I always get something called the Northern Exposure. I think it contains vodka, amaretto, kahlau, and a splash of Coca Cola. Sounds weird, but it's delicious.

We split a cheese plate, then he had the mussels while I (of course) had the soup; I kindly deigned to share some with him, not so much out of the goodness of my heart as in hopes of saving room for dessert.

For dinner he had cedar plank salmon, while I indulged in a new choice: the chicken. I usually stick with appetizers, but on this evening I was in the mood for a meal. I was a bit concerned because the menu said that the sauce contains anise. I know most people view it as a tasty seasoning, but to me it's a flavor created to torture my tastebuds. Still, I can take it in small doses so I thought I would live on the edge and trying something different.

The chicken turned out to be delicious. It was so moist and tender, and although I could taste the anise it was just one of a panoply of flavors. Hubby loved his salmon, but I knew that he would since that is one of his "regulars" at Artist Point. We're both counting the days when they start serving Copper River Salmon this summer; it has a very short season, but it is oh so good.

I managed to save room for something sweet. Eschewing the menu, I asked instead for a scoop of each of the three ice creams/sorbets they offer with several of the dessert items. I had blackberry sorbet, pear sorbet, and honey lavendar ice cream that actually reminded me of the honey coated friend ice cream at Chi Chi's. Ah....memories!

By the time we left, the rain had slacked off only slightly and I was glad that we'd taken the valet option. Soon the Truckster was rolling up to the entrance, and we climbed in and basked in the pleasant glow of alcohol and a good meal for a moment before heading back to Celebration.

I couldn't help but feel a bit guilty in my happiness. All around us at the hotel were sad vacationers who'd pretty much lost two days of their trips to rain. I remember how frustrating that used to be back when I was a Chicagoan for whom Disney was still a remote treat, not just one of a cornacopia of everyday options.

Yes, I still have empathy, but that doesn't mean I'm going to leave Florida and return to their position any time soon. Instead, as we whizzed down World Drive, I basked in the pleasure of knowing that when the sunshine finally returned to give legitamcy to Florida's nickname, I would still be here and able to pop over to the theme parks at my leisure. Rain or shine, it's great to live next door to Disney World, and I don't think the novelty will ever wear off.

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Saturday, April 05, 2008

Monsoons and Missing Bookstores

It was a lazy Saturday afternoon, the perfect kind to go to Universal...except that the radar said that rainstorms were coming. Instead hubby and I decided to have a nice lunch at Chevy's and go seek out Books-A-Million. I knew that one is supposed to be coming to The Loop (not the Chicago Loop...a shopping center in Hunters Creek), and I was wondering if it had opened yet.

Hubby looked it up on their corporate website and couldn't find anything out there, but he did find one out towards Universal. That's Outlet Store Land, and I did NOT want to visit an outlet bookstore; he called them, and they assured him that they were a full-fledged store.

It's been ages since I've been to a Books-A-Million. We had one in Chicago, but that one was an outlet. I was hoping this one would be more traditional, as I've run out of true crime books to read and I also wanted to paw through their magazines to get some ideas for new freelance writing markets.

Hubby plotted out the address on Google Maps and we set out on what we thought would be a rather run of the mill shopping trip. We fueled ourselves at Chevy's first; I had my usual combo plate of seafood enchilada, pork tamale, and taquitos. They recently sent out coupons, so that made it all the better. Then we headed off towards Dr. Phillips, where we'd pick up I-Drive at Sand Lake Road. I knew that it would be traffic hell, but such is the sacrifice you make to live in Tourist Land.

Unfortunately, the rain decided to come with a vengence. In Florida, heavy rain is indescribable compared to anything I've ever experienced in Chicago. It's not just a downpour but a veritable wall of rain that obscures everything but a tiny glint of the tail lights of the car in front of you. The windshield looks as though the troops of Heaven are slinging endless buckets of water at your car. Being caught in a monsoon in the middle of tourist traffic is not fun.

As we headed down I-Drive towards Kirkland, I said to hubby, "Watch some idiot go running out in front of the cars." Sure enough, Brainless Tourist came zipping out and nearly got splattered by the cars in front of me. Oh well, even if he'd been struck, the downpour would have washed the asphalt clean of his blood in mere minutes.

It took some maneuvering and confusion, but we finally found the strip mall where Books-A-Million was supposedly located. There was no sign whatsoever, but hubby had the address in hand so we slowly circled the lot. Squinting through the downpour, he exclaimed, "There it is!", pointed to a huge abandoned store. Indeed, the address matched...but how could he have talked to them on the phone just an hour or so earlier? There's no way they could have cleared out a store that size so quickly, especially in the driving rain.

He rang them up again, and they told him they had moved (thanks, Books-A-Million Webmaster, for keeping your site so wonderfully up to date). Armed with a new set of directions, we set off into traffic hell once again, although the rain was still smothering the hellfires with its vicious onslaught.

At one red light, we encountered a blue Mustang that decided it absolutely HAD to get in front of us in the right lane, despite the fact that there was literally no one behind us. This was not a good time to challenge me; I might have had mercy if there wasn't a whole open lane behind me, but the aggressive little idiot inching his way over in an open challenge wasn't exactly endearing himself to me. Perhaps he thought I was some wimpy rental car driver afraid to get a dent because I resisted the insurance coverage hardsell. Sadly, I didn't have my neon "Local! BEWARE!" sign hooked up in the side window, so I simply made sure that if he kept coming over, he was going to hit me and end up paying a pretty big whiplash settlement. Eventually he gave up and moved in behind the Family Truckster, pouting the whole way.

We pulled into the area where Books-A-Million was supposedly located, but alas, there was no sign of anything other than dubious-looking "flea markets." Hubby hadn't bothered to ask for the address, so we drove around in rain, trying to avoid the drowned-rat pedestrians who kept popping out from between parked cars like some bizarre video game. He called the store back, but couldn't make heads or tails out of their new directions. Thankfully he got an address this time, but it only brought more confusion. They told him, "If you get to Kirkman, you've gone too far," yet their address was on Kirkman.

At this point, I was ready to choke someone, but hubby was decidedly more mellow since he had indulged in a margarita at lunch. My mood was not improved when we went the wrong way on Kirkman and ended up at Lockheed Martin. In getting out of there, we somehow literally ended up back where we started, on freakin' Sand Lake Road. Arghhhhhh!

At this point hubby was ready to call it quits, but there was no way that I was letting an hour of driving in a downpour go to waste. Better yet, our gas was getting low; I figured that a plague of grasshoppers would be next.

We made it back to Kirkman, although hubby had me turn the wrong way again. I managed to make a U-turn before we got trapped at Lockheed Martin again, and we finally managed to get pointed in the right direction. At this point, I'd begun to suspect that it was actually this store rather than the Fountain of Youth that Ponce deLeon had been seeking when he came to Florida. He only changed the object of his quest when he spent so long seeking it that he realized he'd become an octegenarian in his lengthy pursuit.

Finally! We found the freakin' bookstore. When I first caught sight of the Books-A-Million sign, I swear I heard angels singing in the background. We sprinted through the front door and into a huge netherworld of books, ringed by a magazine section that spanned the entire back wall.

Sadly, they were out of the one magazine I wanted most, but they had plenty of others for me to paw through. Better yet, their True Crime section encompassed three whole shelves! Sadly, I still already had the majority of the books, but I found almost a dozen new ones (which, at my rate of reading, will last a couple of weeks). Hubby found some sort of Nascar magazine that put him in a coma of happiness. We had some coffee to soothe our nerves, and the barrista informed hubby that the store was moving yet again in the near future! He also said that Hunters Creek hasn't opened yet and it will still be a while.

I won't even document the journey home, except to say that I-4 in a monsoon adds a hellaciousness factor of x100 to its usual horror. But at least I had my precious bounty of magazines and books packed safely in the Family Truckster. It had been a challenge to get them, but we'd found the elusive Books-A-Million and lived to tell the tale. After making it through that mess, I think we're ready to tackle a trip to find the Holy Grail!

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Tuesday, April 01, 2008

A Mouse Farts and Fox Orlando Is There

One of my guilty pleasures is watching the courtroom shows like Judge Judy and the People's Court. I've been a fan ever since the days of Judge Wapner, so when we moved to Florida and I discovered there is a solid block on from 3 p.m. to 7 p.m. I was estatic. I work at home, so I can run my businesses with my favorite shows playing in the background.

Unfortunately the first half of the block, from 3 to 5 p.m., is on Fox Orlando. I say unfortunately because this is a channel that breaks into programming for extended tedious news coverage whenever a mouse farts anywhere in the state of Florida. I've never seen a station that will manufacture news out of the most innocuous happening just so they can break into their shows. The news woman must be desperate for airtime, but sadly the viewers are not desperate to see her. For God's sake, Lady, wait until the News at 5!

Better yet, often there will be a news story that is long over, but the intrepid news team will still break in to give totally unnecessary updates, presumably because they enjoy hearing the sound of their own voices and believe that all of Orlando shares that love.

The weatherman seems to be jealous as he takes any opportunity to grab his own extended break-in coverage. My favorite was when a tornado struck in Cocoa Beach recently. It was over quickly and only did minor damage, and no one was hurt. But Fox News broken in for over an hour, till I finally got disgusted with the weatherman's obvious love of his computer mouse. He endlessly toggled back and forth between Google Earth and the radar maps, intoning the same news over and over again, which boiled down to: Tornado touchdown. Minor damage. No one hurt. This takes more than an hour to report?

Sadly, today both the newswoman and the weatherman managed to break into my court shows for non-events. First it was Breaking News, even tho' it was well past 4 p.m. and the "news" had occurred somewhere around noon. A suspicious person with equally suspicious luggage was arrested at Orlando airport. Okay, it's long over. Nobody was hurt. But Fox still saw fit to break in, hours later, for some reason I still haven't figured out.

This obviously piqued the weatherman's jealousy, as less than an hour later he had to break in with this stunning information: A thunderstorm is over an unpopulated area. Ooooo, scary! Nothing special about the storm. Nothing special about the fact that the rest of Florida is probably going to get storms later. But the newswoman got extra coverage, so he had to grasp at straws to make sure he got his fair share. I can just imagine his glee when he spotted that red dot on the radar:

"A storm! A storm! This warrants a break into programming! Yeah, it's not threatening anybody, and yeah, storms are a commonplace part of Florida life, but I didn't get my extra-special camera time today so I'm going to run with it. Now let's see, can I fit in a reference to that tornado touchdown in Cocoa a couple months ago? If so, maybe I can leverage that into playing with the radar and Google Earth on air for an hour or two."

Happily, it's back to the court shows now, and in another few minutes I'll be switching to another block on a channel that doesn't share Fox Orlando's obsession with constant break-ins (although ironically I think it's actually owned by Fox too).

But in the meantime, if a leaf falls anywhere within 500 miles of Orlando, I can rest assured that when I'm tuned to "People's Court" I'll be the first to hear about it.

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