Saturday, November 15, 1998: The Drive Down
I am writing this in room 101 of the Quality Inn off of John Young Parkway in Orlando, Florida, a mere 480-something miles from my own driveway. It is around midnight, so I don't know whether to call it Saturday or Sunday.
This time I made the whole trip in one day; last year when I made this same trip, I drove most of the way on Saturday, spent the night south of Gainesville, FL, and finished the trip Sunday morning. Due to my tendency to stop at every rest area, shopping mall, and bookstore on my path, my effective driving speed on road trips is about 50 MPH, though I keep my cruise control set at 75. This year, however, I skipped the Macon mall and spent only a few minutes in the weak excuse for a mall they have in Valdosta, and so made it all the way to Orlando in one day.
When I drive alone, especially at night, I get even more pensive than I usually am, and this trip is especially conducive to that. I didn't reach Florida until an hour after sundown; I had forgotten about the peculiar dark quality of the stretch of I-75 where Georgia becomes Florida, where there are no streetlights and few lights of any kind save the headlights of your own vehicle and those around you; where the luminescent dashed lines of the three-lane interstate stretch ahead of you and come together to disappear into the horizon, but the land to the left and the right of you is so dark as to be invisible, and you can imagine that the world ends where the highway does, and if you drift too far out of the outside lane you run the risk or driving over the edge and falling into outer space; where the stars in the sky above you look as lonely as you would feel without the comfort and companionship of your radio and pack of Starburst fruit chews.
Tomorrow I will spend most of my day at Epcot, one of my favorite places on the planet. The conference proper begins at 7:00 tomorrow night (TechLearn 98; it is the main reason for this trip), and I will spend the rest of my stay getting my head crammed full of important computer-related stuff.
Sunday, November 16, 1998: Epcot
I spent most of Sunday at Epcot. At first it was disappointing; I enjoyed it so much last year (I'd never been before that) that I realized only minutes after entering the park that this visit couldn't possibly live up to the experience I had last year, when it was all new to me. Spaceship Earth, while still entertaining, was exactly as I remembered it. Last year I rode it seven times. Sunday, once was enough.
Waiting to enter The Living Sea, I heard a young British woman admonish her father, who was following his family with a video camera, by saying, "If it's running now, you're only taking pictures of our bums. What's the point?"
Once I was in the "research lab" area of the Living Sea, I was disappointed that the manatees didn't seem to recognize me. I spent a good fifteen minutes watching them eat last year; I thought we had developed a real rapport. Maybe they're just shy.
It wasn't until I entered the World Showcase that I recaptured some of my old delight in Epcot. The different areas of the World Showcase are staffed by people actually from the countries they represent, and the cute young women of the UK section made me light-headed with their British accents and their beaming smiles and their tendency to describe everything as "lovely." I briefly considered proposing marriage to the young woman at the cigar counter, but in the end I didn't even buy a cigar from her. At the Rose & Crown pub I bought a pint of Bass Ale and gulped it down in the space of 15 minutes, which normally would have knocked me on my butt, due to the infrequency with which I consume alcohol; fortunately, I had eaten a huge chicken fajita baked potato only a few minutes earlier, so the ale only contributed slightly to the light-headedness the English lass had already inspired.
In the French area I ate the most incredible chocolate cream pastry, sharing part of the crust with the little birds outside the cafe. They were genuine French birds, I know because when they flitted down from the trees to fight over the bits of crust I dropped, they said, "Le tweet, le tweet."
I may return Wednesday afternoon after the conference proper is over to buy a bonsai tree in the Japanese section. I may not. I'll deal with that thing then.
I am now in the Coronado Springs Hotel inside the vast Disney World complex. It is, as you can imagine, considerably nicer than the hotel in which I spent Saturday night, though I was happy enough with the Quality Inn. Wherever I lay my hat is home.
Tuesday, November 18, 1998: Back to Epcot, Going Home
It is Tuesday night, nearly midnight. On BET on Jazz, a cable television station they get here and which I would love to get at home, Dizzy Gillespie is blowing a tremendous solo over his own "Night in Tunisia" while the narrator talks about Dizz's infectious love of life and his unique ability to spread joy through his music. If I have a hero after Louis Armstrong, I think it is Dizzy Gillespie.
The conference ends tomorrow. Tomorrow night I will have dinner with my friend Laura, who I have not seen in nearly half a decade and who I am very much looking forward to seeing, and then begin the long, contemplative drive back to my home. I have had a good time over the last few days, and it's been good to see my friend Rick here, but it's also kind of lonely here, in a way. I've enjoyed it and am glad I came, but it will be good to get home.
On Monday evening I returned to Epcot for a few more hours. I enjoyed it much more than I did Sunday. On arriving I went immediately to Spaceship Earth, but spent most of the rest of my time in the World Showcase. There I indulged nearly every vice which I can claim as my own, smoking a Macanudo cigar I purchased in the UK while sipping a glass of Fonseca Ruby Port from the Portugal kiosk nearby, later drinking a cafe latte, and finally stuffing myself with a chocolate-covered pretzel from Germany; later, still light-headed and slightly tipsy and buzzing from the alcohol, tobacco, caffeine, and chocolate, I sat on a stone bench to write these words on my palmtop computer.
In the Japanese area I bought a Bonsai tree and in China I bought a meditating Buddha, complete with swastika, to add to my collection; with those two purchases I captured nearly all the qualities I admire: quietness, growth, cuteness, contemplation, wisdom, perhaps even wit.
(This message was sent as an e-mail message to many of my friends at ExecuTrain, where I worked back then. I added it to the blog on October 10, 2017--almost twenty years later.)