Richard and Suzanne's Big 1999 Road Trip
Stage 2: Playing in Traffic
This Sunday was a day of long rest - and more than a few loads of laundry. We finally poked out of the room in mid-afternoon to drop by the Wyndham Resort to check in at NCUTCD and pick up the conference info. After this, we headed over to Costco to replenish supplies, plus a late lunch at Steak n' Shake. We then chose to relax and take in a movie, since we haven't had time to see films all year long with the wedding and other complications in our lives. So, what's better than seeing " Phantom Menace"? Seeing it on an IMAX screen! We ended the evening with a bit more shopping at the stores of the Pointe Orlando, and back to the room for a "home"-cooked dinner and some e-mail.
Apollo mission badges hang in honor
We launched early this day toward the east coast of Florida to minimize the weather-related problems that seem to pop up in the afternoons - somewhat like the Arizona monsoons, but dropping 1-2 inches of rain at a time. We drove out the Bee Line Expressway, one of the many change-depleting toll highways crossing central Florida, and arrived at the Visitors Complex of the Kennedy Space Center, "America's Spaceport". The center offers a tour that takes in a number of interesting and famous sites, with the first stop being Launch Complex 39, where the Saturn and Space Shuttle rockets are launched. After a brief lightning-caused delay (spent meeting many of our local mosquito friends), we climbed the gantry to view the shuttle launching pads and saw the space shuttle Columbia on the pad being readied for a mid-July launch. After this, the tour bus took us past the swamps containing many reptilian members of the "NASA unpaid security staff", to the Apollo/Saturn V center. There we spent many hours viewing our second Saturn V of the trip, saw a earthshaking multimedia presentation featuring the original launch control for the moon voyages, and enjoyed lunch under a lunar module. We then returned to the visitors complex, where we heard the stirring stories of the robot adventurers that explore deep space on our behalf, and then a final trip to the souvenir shop for some earth, moon, and space shuttle squeezies. We finished the afternoon wetting our toes and collecting shells in the mighty Atlantic at Cocoa Beach, and then made sure to visit the Ron Jon Surf Shop, a central Florida landmark for many decades (and there's hundreds of billboards all over Florida to remind you of this). After a nice quick Italian meal at Fazoli's in Merritt Island, we then wandered back through Christmas (passing the world's largest artificial alligator at Jungle Adventures, but darn, they were closed for the night), and ended up back in Orlando ready to rest for another day.
"No, Ed, it's the big red button, second from the left"
And rest we did. We woke up very very late, even by Mountain Time standards, and finally dragged our butts out of the room for a drive through midtown Orlando to AAA to stock up on maps for the rest of the trip. We then met the rest of the AASHTO / NCUTCD conference attendees for the ARTBA summer social event in Orlando's historic Church Street Station, where we were treated to a nice light dinner and admission to the many musical and shopping attractions available at this showcase of downtown redevelopment.
Fun and joy in our happy home away from home
For the next three days, we would go our separate ways, with Suzanne relaxing in the room and Richard attending the National Committee on Uniform Traffic Control Devices (NCUTCD) meetings at the Wyndham Orlando resort. The NCUTCD has the important role of advising the Federal Highway Administration (FHWA) on additions and changes to the Manual on Uniform Traffic Control Devices (MUTCD). The MUTCD, published by FHWA, is the standard across the United States for roadway signing, pavement marking, and traffic control. Sponsors of NCUTCD include AASHTO, ITE, APWA, ATSSA, AAA, NSC, and other transportation and safety organizations. Richard represents the League of American Bicyclists (LAB) as one of the 37 full voting members of NCUTCD. LAB has taken a leading role in transportation issues for over a century, and is credited as the originator of the "Good Roads" movement that has resulted in the roadway transportation system we enjoy today. LAB fully intends to have a significant role in shaping the MUTCD in the future, and both ADOT and LAB share (in slightly varying ways) Richard's vision of safe and efficient transportation for all. The fun began right after lunch, where Richard worked with other members of the NCUTCD Bicycle Technical Committee to prepare recommendations for Part 9 (Bicycle Facilities) of the MUTCD. We reviewed and updated previous committee work in preparation for an anticipated announcement by FHWA of a new draft MUTCD Part 9 for review and comment. Also, the committee reviewed the new 1999 edition of the AASHTO Guide to Development of Bicycle Facilities, which many committee members (including Richard) helped to create. After the Wednesday afternoon technical meetings, a number of committee members toured the town of Celebration, a master-planned "New-Urbanist" community recently created (and operated) by Disney near Orlando. This community is unique in that it is Disney's attempt to create a full-size town based on their ideas and principles. The committee explored this experiment in neo-traditional urban design, and noted the many interesting amenities and the pedestrian and bicycle-friendly scale of the community. It will be interesting to see how this town matures, with Disney's considerable control over the community contrasted against the desires of some of the homeowners to express their individuality. Fortunately, there were no animatronic residents or costumed characters wandering around, so it wasn't all too surreal. We all then had Cuban cuisine at the Columbia restaurant in Celebration, and then drove back into Orlando proper to get ready for the next day's action.
A "Celebration" of neighborhood electric vehicles
This day saw many important events. First, very early on this morning, the day's Federal Register was published, and lo and behold it contained the long-awaited draft Part 9 of the MUTCD! So, whatever other plans the NCUTCD Bicycle Technical Committee may have had were tossed aside so we could focus on reviewing and providing guidance to FHWA on this proposal. However, the morning's agenda first featured a general session of the full National Committee, before the technical meetings. Richard participated in the discussion on internally illuminated pavement markers, and his suggestions for emergency management (civil defense) signing were accepted (with minor modifications) by the full Committee. After the general session, the bicycle technical committee hunkered down for the long process of discussion, deliberation, and consensus-building needed to revise and improve FHWA's Part 9 draft. This continued through the afternoon and long into the evening, and our technical committee was proud to state that we had prepared exhaustive comments. However, exhausted also described us as well, as it was well past 11 PM when we finished this process. The computer, printer, and paperwork were loaded in the truck, the alarm was set, and we reconvened over at the poolside bar to celebrate our achievement.
Then things got much worse.
Around 12:30 AM, on the way back to the parking lot, there's a car alarm - our truck's alarm! Rushing over to the truck, we were relieved to see that it was still there, and that no windows were broken. However, a bag containing our printer, Zip drive, all the backup disks, and accessories had been stolen. Our brave truck had resisted all attempts to break open the locks on the passenger side door and rear window of the shell, but could not stop the thieves from forcibly prying the rear shell open. The alarm went off as soon as the shell opened, though, and probably saved us from losing Richard's computer and everything else (including the truck itself). Because of other disturbances in the area (of which my incident was only one), the
Orange County Sheriff's
deputy didn't arrive until nearly 2:30 AM. By the time all the paperwork, scene investigation, and fingerprint dusting was done, it was nearly 4. Then it was off to Wal-Mart to figure up a way to secure the rear window for the rest of the trip, and a heavy-duty hasp and padlock seemed to do the trick. Then back to the room for a quick shower, change of clothes, and to see Suzanne, and to be thankful that although we'd suffered a serious setback, we were both still OK.
Oh yeah, we're now quite a few hours into...
Despite a minor absence of any meaningful rest (or perhaps because of it?), Richard's contribution to Friday morning's full National Committee session was to move for approval to add bicycle parking signs to the main guide sign section (not just the bicycle section) of the MUTCD. Richard followed this up with a passionate and stirring defense of the use of 8" upper case / 6" lower case lettering on guide signs, succeeding in tabling a proposal to make capital letters mandatory on all 8" and smaller guide sign legends. After final adjournment of the NCUTCD meetings, Suzanne then joined up for a late lunch at an Orlando-area Denny's Diner. This restaurant could best be described as a sort of a mutant love child of a traditional Denny's and the Space Age Lodge in Gila Bend, AZ. The food was as good as the decor was tacky, and we were very pleased. Then, we went right back to the room and got some desperately needed sleep. We wandered out once more for a few more trinkets at Bargain World, a souvenir store shaped, in that Orlando tradition of architectural understatement, like a giant flying saucer. Then a late dinner, which we found at a friendly place called... Friendly's. These friendly folks asked Suzanne if she wanted her chicken sandwich grilled or fried, and when Suz said she wanted it grilled, they replied in a friendly manner, "It only comes fried!" So, we had a fried sandwich and other good stuff, and we took some half gallons of Friendly's ice cream back to the room for further devouring.
Another example of quiet and understated Orlando architecture
Richard and Suzanne! You've been on the road for two weeks, seen many odd things, and suffered hundreds of dollars in theft and property damage! What are you going to do next? "We're going to Disney World!" We drove past the miles of Florida swamps and purple guide signs until we parked near the giant golf ball of Epcot. Epcot seems rather like a World's Fair by Disney, with many futuristic displays and attractions, plus areas representing certain countries of the world. One minor problem occurred at the ticket counter - the computer for some reason rejected my official genuine Disney credit card. This was disappointing and troubling (credit cards usually like me), but we piled other means of payment on the counter and got into the park anyway. Our first stop was the General Motors building, where we rode Test Track, a 64 mph simulation of Orlando driving conditions - only slightly safer and much more amusing. We then loaded up on Disney traffic control devices, and were off to the Wonders of Life building. Here we experienced "Body Wars", featuring a full motion simulator and appearances by very young Elisabeth Shues and Tim Mathesons, and then we saw "Cranium Command", an explanation of how the brain and body interact while providing employment for many famous comedians. Then it was off to Mexico, where we had lunch at a cantina, heard mariachis (from Tucson), and rode the El Rio de Tiempo boat ride, an amusing amalgam of Small World puppets and fiber optic fireworks. Nearby we found Norway, which featured another boat ride, this one being "Maelstrom", a different experience involving trolls, North Sea oil rigs, and an obligatory big-screen tourism promo. Then quick trips through China, Germany, and Italy, with a long stop at the American Adventure, an animatronic multimedia presentation on our nation's heritage, where we were recharged with patriotism and cooled by air conditioning. Then off to Japan, Morocco (where Suzanne got a nice woven basket), France, the United Kingdom, and finally Canada. Quite the whirlwind tour! We then got small at "Honey, I Shrunk the Audience" (watch out for the mice!). After this, we grounded ourselves at the Land pavilion. Here we took a boat ride through a research greenhouse, and then saw the "Food Rocks" show, starring "Pita Gabriel" and the "Peach Boys". We thought it was delicious. So, after a dinner at the Land food court, we wandered outside into... a thunderstorm! Since we were already rather wet, we headed for the Living Seas pavilion, where we traveled through a huge aquarium and saw many forms of aquatic life, including prowling sharks and dozing manatees. Then back into the rain toward Spaceship Earth (the golf ball thingie), where we rode into a display charting man's communications improvements(?) from the grunts of cavemen all the way to the get-rich-quick scams of the Internet. We finished our Epcot evening watching the evening fireworks and laser show through the downpour, then puddlejumped back to the truck for the trip back to the room.
Happy crash test dummies in the "emergency braking" test at Test Track
We decided to have even more Disney fun this day, this time at the Magic Kingdom portion of Disney World. We parked (miles away, just like most everyone else), and rode the ferryboat across the lagoon to the park entrance. Once inside, our first stop was at the very entertaining Buzz Lightyear's Space Ranger Spin. This ride does an excellent job of accommodating great numbers of junior space rangers in a short period of time, due to its innovative "endless loop of space pods" design. On this ride, you control the rotation of your pod while shooting at the forces of the Evil Emperor Zurg with your handy built-in raygun. We did well - Suz got 31100, while Richard scored 238400. After picking up some 3-eyed aliens of our own to accompany us on our voyages, we then tried our hand at some driving fun (and more than a few rear-end collisions) at the Tomorrowland Speedway. We then toured the area on the Tomorrowland Transit Authority (know by old-timers as the Peoplemover), and enjoyed the rotation (and anachronistic displays) of the Carousel of Progress. Then off to Mickey's Toontown Fair and the Goofy's Barnstormer roller coaster - short, but a lot of fun. A spin on the Mad tea cups put us in a perfect mood for lunch at Cosmic Ray's, featuring entertainment by the very smooth "Sonny Eclipse". After this break, we wandered diagonally across the park to the good old Enchanted Tiki Room, which is now "Under New Management". Let's just say that the new Tiki routine is mostly "for the birds", and we miss the old songs. Then yo ho ho and a ride on the Pirates of the Caribbean, which, although entertaining, does not compare well with its Disneyland counterpart. We continued our nautical theme with a ride on the Liberty Belle riverboat, watching the inevitable afternoon storm couds roll in. We ducked out of the rain for a visit in the Hall of Presidents, and then dodged the lightning bolts (hey, those were real!) down Main Street. After waiting out the lightning while examining all that Main Street had to offer, we then rode the railroad around the park back to Fantasyland. Here we enjoyed the unique experience of doing the Dumbo ride in the rain (actually quite fun) and then dried off during our obligatory "It's a Small World" experience (not as impressive as the West Coast one, but still cute). After watching the Small World boats from our dinner table at Pinocchio's, we then wandered wetly back to Tomorrowland to view the Timekeeper attraction, a very funny sort of Circle Vision / Robin Williams as psychotic robot / time travel experience. Our evening was topped off by watching the new "old" Main Street Electrical Parade as we slowly strolled back to the main entrance for a quick monorail ride back to the truck. Finally, on the way out past the endless purple signs of the the enormous Disney World complex, we took a detour to view the notorious "tourist-eating turn" near Celebration. This is where some unsuspecting drivers (who apparently didn't see the traffic control devices) vanished recently, and were found months later in a pond at the side of the road. We survived, though, and then drove past the neon and glitter of Kissimmee back to the room.
Bravely spinning with Buzz Lightyear and his 3-eyed pals
We finally got a chance to call Monogram Credit Card Bank of Georgia, the issuers of our Disney credit card. This company had the gall to tell us that not only had they cancelled our card, but that the reason was that they decided we didn't spend enough on Disney stuff to make it worth *their* while to maintain the account! They offered to let us go through the effort to reapply for another card - needless to say, we politely told them what they could do with their Disney credit program. After dealing with these financial reptiles, we decided to have some fun visiting some real reptiles at the legendary Gatorland, on Orange Blossom Blvd just south of Orlando. We had lots of fun watching those scaly gators wrassle with poor defenseless local folks, and the gators did let the humans tickle their scaly bellies just to let them feel better. We then met many other less-scaly animals, such as emus, goats, llamas, and oodles of flamingos, and then wandered over to watch the "Jumparoo", where the gators are enticed into flying lessons by juicy meat chunks hung over the water. However, this day the gators just weren't feeling jumpy, but some of 'em put a little effort into popping out of the water for an overhead snack. After an interesting incident involving a rather aggressive seabird and some dead fish, we headed out of Gatorland and snagged our own lunch (this one not hung over our heads) at Bob Evans. Then it was time to fill up the tank at Cumberland Farms (hey, they accepted my Gulf card!), select food for the return trip, and go back to the room for more rest and to pack up our lives after 9 days in Orlando.
Gator wrassling - it's fun, educational, and a great way to lose weight!
Next Stage: In the Land of Pedros and Elvises - Orlando, FL to Memphis, TN
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Latest Historical Revisionism 25 January 2006 (fix link)Scripting: Richard C. Moeur