1:45 pm: Departure!
I set out from my house towards Orlando, FL and the TechLearn Conference promptly at 1:45 on Saturday afternoon. The weather was beautiful and promised to remain so; I was feeling good and looking forward to an exciting Sunday at Epcot, an interesting and informative conference on Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday, and a triumphant return to the office at the end of the week. I made good time before I realized I'd forgotten something really important: my car! A little embarrassed, I turned around, returned home, and climbed into my trusty Nissan Sentra. I don't know what I was thinking. It is, after all, nearly 500 miles from my house to Orlando; how long would that take on foot?
Before heading out for real, I stopped at the Eckerds up the road from my house to get one of those really cute tubes of travel toothpaste; you know, the kind that, if you're at all concerned with dental hygiene, is enough to brush your teeth about two times. It's more efficient to take a real tube, I know, but those little travel items are just so cute I can't resist them!
4:10 pm: Rest Area outside of Macon, GA
When I travel any considerable distance--say, over one hundred miles--I like to drive as though I'll be doing so forever and have no destination and therefore progress, both in time and distance, is irrelevant. I put a QuikTrip napkin over my odometer so I can't tell how far I've been, I turn my car's clock off so that the LCD display indicates either the radio station I'm listening to or the current operation of the tape I'm playing, I take my watch off and put it in my pocket, and I do my best not to look at the roadside signs that tell me "Macon 43 mi" or "Valdosta 72 mi" or "Gainesville 110 mi." I drive as though it's all I'm doing for the rest of my life. And, if I have a good audio book with me and a pleasant stretch of road ahead, it is a good life.
But, as anyone who's followed my travels in the past knows, I suspend this notion when I approach a rest area. My first stop today was at the rest area just outside of Macon, where I availed myself of the sanitary facilities, walked around for a few minutes, searched the vending machines for some of those little chocolate donuts (life can be so cruel--there were none!), and finally set out again.
6:05 pm: Cook County Rest Area no. 6, South GA
It is with something approaching ecstasy that I report that the vending machines at Cook County Rest Area no. 6 have Dunking Sticks. Life is good.
6:30 pm: Valdosta, GA
In Valdosta I ate an unsatisfying corn dog and French fry dinner at the mall and then went to the familiar Books-A-Million, got a cup of coffee (a grandé cafe au lait with a shot of Irish creme, for those of you keeping score), and browsed for a few minutes. I decided, though, that Books-A-Million isn't my favorite of the chain bookstores, primarily because they do not carry the new Random House reissues of the Three Investigators mysteries, so my stay there was brief and not terribly satisfying. The coffee, however, was excellent; don't go there if you're looking for The Mystery of the Fiery Eye, but if you want a good cup of coffee, it's not a bad place.
8:09 pm: The Georgia/Florida Line
As I crossed into Florida, the sky overhead was completely black. I had forgotten that in Florida, they have no stars!
9:30 pm: Gainesville, FL
And now I am in room 120 of the Gainesville Econo Lodge--a smoking room, which is all they had left, but the nice man at the front desk assured me that smoking in the room is allowed but not required--and am nearly done compiling my photos and notes from my day's journey. After I complete this page and upload the files, I will turn in for a good nights sleep, get up, and drive to Orlando.
And now I'm done. I'm tired. I'm going to bed. Good night!
Day 2: Epcot
6:30 am: Waking Up Early
I awoke this morning at 6:30, after only about six hours of sleep, and then realized that it was officially 5:30 because of Daylight Savings, so I had slept even less than I thought. Or would that be more than I thought? Or, since I hadn't reset my watch, maybe I actually hadn't slept at all! In any case, it was way too early and I had no business being up yet. Did I go back to sleep? I tried. I couldn't. So I got up, checked my e-mail (I had none yet, though thankfully I did get a couple from Anna before breakfast); watched some TV ("The Dick Van Dyke Show" on Nick at Nite); thought, "I should read for a while" but did not read; and finally went back to sleep around 7:00. I think I only slept for another half hour or so, but apparently it was enough.
7:30 am: Up For Real
At 7:30 when I got up for real, I took a shower and went to the EconoLodge lobby to get some of the promised free coffee and a donut. Apparently there was some sort of mix up in the office; I'm pretty sure that the woman at the front desk, perhaps in a fit of early morning carelessness, substituted the coffee grounds one would normally put in the coffee maker with weeks-old pencil shavings. I can think of no other explanation for the quality of the coffee I had there. But the donut...ah, the donut is another matter! I don't know that I've ever had a worse donut. Pencil shavings would have improved this sad excuse for a pastry. It gave me a new appreciation for the coffee.
I left Gainesville a little after 9:00 and headed for Orlando. On the way there I listened to one of the tapes from my collection of stories from The Mysterious Traveler, a 1940s radio mystery show that was created and written by Robert Arthur, who also created the Three Investigators mysteries a decade later, and who was one of my main literary influences growing up. This morning I heard an especially creepy story called "Behind the Locked Door;" it kept me riveted for most of the drive along the Florida Turnpike. And by the way, just a word of advice: if you're planning on taking the Florida Turnpike anytime soon, be sure to bring plenty of one dollar bills with you. It's a toll road, with as much emphasis on the "toll" as on the "road," I think.
11:30 am: Epcot, Walt Disney World, Orlando, FL
I arrived in Orlando by 11:00, and by 11:30 I was waiting in line to get aboard Spaceship Earth at Epcot, $177.02 poorer (yes, one hundred seventy-seven dollars and two cents), but darn happy to be there.
Aboard Spaceship Earth I saw an Animatronic Michelangelo paint the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel (or was it an Animatronic Leonardo Da Vinci? I can never remember. I'm sure it wasn't Picasso, though. And how do you spell "Animatronic," anyway?) In the Living Seas I saw a giant sea turtle from about six inches away. In the French section of the World Showcase I ate a Napoleon that I'm surprised didn't kill me; it was huge and delicious and had absolutely no nutritional, social, or educational value whatsoever. It made me very happy and full. Sitting outside of the Morocco section of the World Showcase, I saw the most bizarre procession of stilt walkers I've ever seen; it was positively otherworldly.
5:30 pm: The Coronado Springs Hotel, Orlando, FL
I left Epcot at about 4:30 and checked into my hotel room at a little after 5:00, and at 7:30 I was sitting in the big conference room watching Eliot Massie get the TechLearn Conference going.
And once again I'm tired and it's late. I'm going to bed. Good night!
Day 3: Techlearn '99
7:30 am: Conference Center, Coronado Springs Resort
Day 3 of my trip to Orlando was the first full day of the TechLearn '99 conference, and therefore a day with no Spaceship Earth or watching the manatees get fed or eating Napoleons. (And, in case you're wondering: No, the manatees do not eat Napoleons.) I started the day by meeting Rick Sonnenberg at the entrance to the conference center at 7:32 (I don't really know exactly what time it was, but we were supposed to meet at 7:30, and Rick later pointed out that I had "kept him waiting." Well, my watch said 7:30, but anyone who knows Rick knows how cranky he gets when he's hungry.) for the breakfast that's included with the TechLearn registration fee. I had a creme filled donut and a croissant and about 100 cups of coffee; this coffee, I'm happy to report, was much better than the hot pencil shavings liquid I had the day before on leaving the Gainesville Econo Lodge, and the donut was quite good as well.
8:00 am: The Sessions Begin
I spent the next three and a half hours in various technology and education-related sessions, such as MindQ's "Has the time arrived for learning objects?" and Brandon Hall's "Tools and Approaches to Authoring Content." At 11:00 I heard one of the keynote speakers, Michael Milken, but left part of the way through the CEO panel discussion to check my e-mail, go to the bathroom, and try to track down my other partner in crime, Kevin Eames. I found him right off the bat, sitting on a bench just outside the ASTD bookstore area, waiting for his wife Lisa.
12:15 pm: A Long Line, Then Lunch
Rick and I waited in line to get to the make-your- own-sandwich lunch station for what seemed like about eight days; once I got there, I took out my frustration on the catering company by making a ham sandwich that must have constituted most of the pig from which it had originally come. We ate at outside at a table with a bunch of people we didn't know, and one we did, a gentleman from my sordid past whose name is Kevin Brice.
4:15 pm: The Cos!
One of the keynote speakers this year was Bill Cosby, who I saw from quite a distance away in a huge conference room with about 3,000 other people. He was very funny, and warm, and even slightly educational (as he used to say in the opening to Fat Albert, "If you're not careful you might learn something..."). In the first few minutes of his talk/performance, he found a guy in the audience who had attended his old school back in Philly, Central. He got the guy up on stage with him, exchanged a little light banter about the old neighborhood, and tried to get him to sing the school song. When it became clear that the poor audience member didn't know the school song, Cos called for a phone and proceeded to call the man's mother to reprimand her! "Mom, you're not going to believe this," the poor ex-Central student began, "but I'm on stage in front of a few thousand people, and there's someone here who wants to talk to you."
7:00 pm: The Day Ends
I ended the day by having dinner at the Pepper Market with Rick and Kevin, hanging out for over an hour and talking, and then going back to my hotel room, calling Anna and talking for about forty five minutes, and then going to bed.
Day 4: Dinner With the Caudles
A Brief Tour of the Hotel
Since Day 2 of the TechLearn '99 Conference was so uninteresting as to have long since faded from my memory--I do vaguely remember seeing Michael Milken strutting around on the stage talking about distribution of wealth as I listened from half a conference room away with various stages of interest, most of them south of genuine; mostly I was trying to figure out if Michael Milken really does look like John Malkovich, or if it was just my imagination coupled with the suggestion of the fact that they're both middle-aged bald guys with Ms and Ls and Ks in their last names--I decided to put up a brief tour of the Coronado Springs Resort hotel where I stayed and where the conference was held.
My room in Orlando
The View from My Room
Lori, Allison, and Rick at the Conference
Me and Kevin at the Conference
6:15 pm: Dinner with Laura, Keith, and Lisa Caudle; Orlando, FL
Tuesday night I had the pleasure of having dinner with my friend Laura Caudle and her husband Keith and their six and a half year old daughter Lisa, who I had not seen awake since she was two weeks old.
It took approximately forever to get to their house; a full hour, as it's 40 miles from Disney World to where they live, in a cute little house that is just barely in Orlando, and which is filled with books and toys and a cat named George. Laura served chicken enchiladas, which were excellent, and key lime pie for dessert, also excellent. The hight point of the evening for me was meeting Lisa, who is beautiful and intelligent and precocious, but well mannered and dignified. I was very impressed with how considerate and polite she was; Laura and Keith have done a great job of raising her. They should be proud; I know I am. Before we ate we joined hands and they recited, "We love our bread, we love our butter, but most of all, we love each other."
The second high point of the evening came after we ate, when Lisa was very eager to show me her elbow-in-a-cup trick, a trick which results in a sound that does have a precedent in nature, indeed in human physiology, but which I will not name here; suffice it to say that most pre-adolescent boys are capable or producing similar results by the deliberate application of a hand to the armpit and a rapid pumping of the arm. The elbow-in-a-cup trick seemed to be the bane of Laura's existence and the delight of Keith's; Lisa took a great pride in her trick, justifiably so.
After we had left the table, Lisa read a school book to Laura and Keith and me, then Laura read a book to her--Worms Wiggle, I believe, was the title. Then Keith put Lisa to bed and Laura and I talked for about an hour about various things one talks about with an old friend you haven't seen in a year. I left at about 8:50 and got back to the hotel by 9:30; Anna called me at about 10:00, and we talked for half an hour or so, then I went to bed.
The End: Getting My Donuts and Going Home
The last day of the conference was Wednesday: Here's a summary of what I did: attended one last TechLearn session, spent four hours at Epcot, and drove 500 miles home in practically one long stretch. I was very glad to be home.
And yes, I finally got some little chocolate covered donuts:
(I originally published this travelogue on my AOL Web site on the dates shown above, and transferred it to our family blog on October 10 and 11, 2017.)