Going to Florida?

My sister-in-law and her step sister called to talk to their sister/step-sister at different times today.  They wanted to talk about going to Florida.  What the hell did I know?  Tickets were cheap, and then they got cheaper, and they were going anyway and they asked my spouse if she wanted to go as well and take the children?  What about me. was what I thought?  You think I have something against the sunshine state?

No, they just thought I had to work.  Ho ho, I have the week off, too.  They pestered me, good naturedly of course, about why my wife would not answer the phone.  Sure, she doesn’t get great reception where she works but, more importantly, she was at work.  Not a great time to talk about a trip south.  They wanted me to say “Sure go ahead and book the tickets before the price goes up,” but we had not talked about it.  The closest we came was last night when she said to me, “My sister had the idea that we might go to Florida, but I’m not sure about it, what do you think?”  And then we got interupted.

So all of a sudden I was in the position of having to decide if she might want to go with the kids and can you please decide right now?  I deferred.  I supported the idea but I did want to spend that vacation week with the family.  We could use some time together without work and school pressures.  And I wanted to go along if they were going along.

Apparently we have made a plan.  We were going to keep it secret but my wife can’t keep a secret.  She keeps talking on the phone and talking to me and oh forget it let’s just tell the kids.  I didn’t even know where were we might go but it turns out Orlando is the destination.  Disneyland and all that.  I’m going to Disneyland!  Once I went to Orlando for a conference but I didn’t really get to Disneyland.  I wandered around the silly shopping area but that hardly counts.  I didn’t even buy anything except some chocolate coins with Mickey Mouse on them.

It is kind of exciting, just to take a trip and fly on a plane and get away from home and go someplace new.  Disneyland?  I guess that could be fun.  I remember, as a kid, others telling me about their visits to the Magic Kingdom.  Finally I will get a peek at what it is all about.  I am sure we will have a fine time.  Cable television and a swimming pool and we will be all set.  The rest is gravy.

So our vacation will be eventful.  We will have some friends visiting before we leave and we will get some down time when we get back.  Sounds about right.

GPS in the Dark

For Christmas my parents gave me a GPS unit. It is almost the same one that they have, maybe one version newer. My dad has been pretty into it since he got it and I guess he thought it might come in handy for me as well. I used it this afternoon and evening to drive down to the New Hampshire coast. It served me well.

Typically, if I drive somewhere I have never been, I get directions. I like to figure out where I am headed, to the last turn, before I start the car. But this time I did not do that. I had meant to, but just never got around to it. I was planning to rent a car to head down to save some cash for my organization (cheaper to pay the rental company than to reimburse me for mileage on my own car) so I used the new toy to get me there as I wasn’t sure where it was. That worked great.

Once I had the rental car I sat in the parking lot waiting for satellite connection. It took me a bit to find the location I was headed on the little black box, but once I did I was off down the interstate. Then it told me to just go on that road for 144 miles. Not much action there.

The thing has a lovely woman’s voice. She tells me where to turn right when I need to know. She is just so friendly, that GPS lass. Of course, her confidence can be deceptive. Once, when the family was headed out on an adventure together, the unit seemed to think we were a little off from where we actually were. According to that thing we were driving through rivers and buildings, but she just kept telling us to turn left or right.

It got dark as I headed down, on my own except for the lass, and I dutifully followed her directions. I turned where she told me to turn and ended up at a darkened building. It turns out that was the country club, not the hotel, so I rejiggered and turned about and after half a mile found the right spot.

I am not a huge fan of driving in the dark, especially in unknown locales, but I did manage to find my way, even without getting directions first. I was a little hesitant, and I don’t know that I’d go without a backup plan every time, but it worked. As I walked from my car to the main entrance to the hotel, I ran into a friend who is also attending the conference for which I drove all those hours. She said this: “I don’t know how I got here; I just kept on going and managed to find the place.”

Sounds about right to me.

Snowing Like Stink

I would, of course, be in Milton all day.  Most of the schools in the state were closed but all of Chittenden County was open.  That made sense in the short run, since it was not even snowing when I left this morning.  But whenever I got the chance to peek out of one of the too-few windows at Milton High School, it was snowing.

By early afternoon it was snowing like stink.  Some schools that had not closed for the morning closed early.  That would have been smart.  Driving home was craziness.  Snow was falling hard, visibility was low, there were lots of cars on the road; it was a recipe for smashing.  I made it home, however, with nary a scratch.  I simply had a long drive.

Now, long after I am home, it is still snowing like stink.  Look:

Snowing Like Stink at Night

Snowing Like Stink at Night

The timing of this was all wrong.  Schools were open because it wasn’t snowing in the morning.  They can’t close around here because too many parents complain if they are closed.  But when it was time for buses to carry students home, the roads were about as dangerous as they can get.  Plus, it will likely peter out so we don’t get the bonus snow day tomorrow.

Not that I can afford a snow day.  That would mean more work to make up. But still, I frickin’ love snow days.  If I can swing it, I will take a couple of hours to go skiing tomorrow.  Or not.  But maybe.  We’ll see just how much of the stinky stuff we get.

What, No Snow Day?

My wife is an educator and, come winter, is seriously crazy about following the weather for the purposes of discovering the perfect convergence of snow/sleet/ice/cold and a school day.  This ideal scenario means, of course, a snow day.  She only works part time so the quest to find this meeting of the weather and the educational system has even more significance than it would were she to work full time, as there are fewer days on which it might happen.

I have some of the same feelings, I admit.  A snow day makes me feel like a kid.  That feeling of another day in the old classroom, suddenly turned into a day romping through the drifts of white, now that’s something to celebrate.  Having my own children these days, I get to experience a little of that all over again.  Plus, I get to do some romping now and again myself.

My wife, however, gets way more excited than I do.  This is a reflection, perhaps, of my own surliness.  Or maybe I just have a little bit less hope, or I hate to get disappointed if it does not happen.  In any case, she keeps me up on the latest.

This morning had real potential to be a snow day.  It started snowing last night and was falling heavily this morning.  The forecast was somewhat squirrely, so it had been continually updated over the past week as a couple of systems converged on us.  As of last night, it looked good for some poor travel.  Poor travel conditions are the key element to the snow day.  School gets cancelled if it seems unsafe for buses to make their way along the slippery roads.

Not only the severity of a storm has to be right but the timing has to be right.  If the roads can get cleared in time, well, forget missing a day of school.  It was seriously a tough call for those school administrators I am sure.  I wouldn’t want to be in their shoes.  If you cancel school, some parent complains that it was fine and their little Einstein missed another day of fractions.  If you don’t cancel school, some parent complains that their kid had to risk his neck just for another day of fractions.  Not an easy business.

You might have guessed by now that we did not have a snow day today.  Frankly, that isn’t a terrible thing for me.  Making up a snow day is big fat hassle.  That doesn’t mean that I don’t enjoy it.  It just puts a thorn in my tender side.  My wife, as you can imagine, was not exactly thrilled about this.  She even got a tad grumpy, but don’t tell her I said so.  Every school in the state, except for a few here in Chittenden County, was closed.  Apparently, they like to play it safe, while here in Chittenden County feel the need to risk a bus full of children in a ditch to keep the moaners at bay.

Don’t get me wrong, we have some stellar bus drivers around these parts, and I would trust them to make safety a priority.  It’s just that, couldn’t we have a snow day?  That would be so much more fun.  My wife certainly thinks so.  I am not home at the moment and I need to travel to get there.  It is snowing, ice covers the car.  It is slick as a booger rag.  But even if it were 6:00 am, I am sure schools around here would still be open.  Too many little Einsteins to educate.

Wretched Driving

I’ve done some driving in bad conditions. More than once I have driven in weather so bad that I stopped driving to spend the night in the middle of wherever. I have seen snow on the road.

Driving from Connecticut to Maine one time the visibility was so poor we couldn’t see the road and had to spend the night at a random hotel. Before I moved to Burlington we spent a day apartment hunting in a snowstorm. The drive back from the queen city was a slow slog on the interstate with swirling snow and cars off the road. A long drive.

Yesterday I drove from Milton to Hinesburg. That was not a speedy drive. I left later than I had planned. Get a little more work in, you’ve been there, no? I was in a windowless room, so I had no cues to how the weather had become so fierce. The snow was heavy on the car when I brushed it off and packed on the roads.

I made two stops before I hit the interstate, so I had time to consider whether I should even take the interstate. Would it be better to travel on roads where others would drive more slowly? Or should I just take the most direct route? Popping in for toilet paper (stocking up for the storm!) then filling the tank with gas (and getting a warm cup of decaf) I decided to go for the big road.

It was some of the most dreadful driving I have encountered, pretty much ever. It is not a drive for which I would have opted if I were leaving home rather than heading toward it. The worst moment of my journey last night was on a bridge, a semi passing me on the left and whooshing a cloud of snow so dense I could just see my hood. When I could see a little more clearly I was way too close to the guardrail.

I moved over soon enough.

When I finally exited that four lane highway, slowly, behind another (or perhaps the same) semi, a car too close behind me, on the icy exit ramp, I was somewhat relieved. Then I had to navigate traffic. To travel about two miles on Dorset Street took me at least an hour. I was passing the mall, along with all that other strip development, and it was the final Friday before Christmas, but still, those traffic lights slowed me down lots. The keystone light on Kennedy Drive must have cycled red and green twenty times before I drove through it.

I did make it home. The car was coated in ice and snow. I was too hot (I had to keep the heater blasting to keep the windshield from icing–it was 7 degrees out there!). I needed to take a leak. I was hungry. It was dark and late after a long work day. But I was home to a warm house and a beautiful wife and some smiling children and pizza hot from the oven.

I ran the gauntlet, and the reward was great. It is enough to make this man happy. Last night, the snow falling heavily through the darkness, I slept well. And in the morning, the snow kept falling.

Snow Still Falling in the Morning

Snow Still Falling in the Morning

Driving Around Here

When I was in high school I drove to school.  Not at first, of course.  My parents, in their ever-giving way as parents, drove me to school.  I couldn’t take the bus.  There wasn’t one.  So they drove me and eventually, at least some of the time, I drove myself.  It was a typical commute for someone in Connecticut, less than an hour.  Traffic was always a concern.

Today I drove to a school at which I work a few days each month.  I drove 28 miles each way.  It took about 40 minutes to get there this morning.  I encountered some traffic but nothing worth noting, at least for me.  I stopped at some traffic lights, went the speed limit on the Interstate, and generally kept moving the whole way.  No big deal.

I do encounter delays some days.  If there happens to be an accident in the right place at the right time, traffic can get snarled.  One morning I was an hour or so late getting to this same school and I had to go a long way around to get back.  My drive home took hours, but that was unusual.

The volume of traffic is way higher than when I first moved to this area.  Driving always seemed to be easy, even at the busiest times on the busiest roads.   My wife points this out regularly.  Having grown up here, she has seen the change.  Even since the days we first began to spend time together in her adult years, there are many more cars on the road.  Her typical questions:  “Where did all these people come from?  And where do they all live?”

The thing is, this is nothing.  I remember listening to traffic reports on my high school commute.  Would traffic on the bridge over the Connecticut River on Interstate 91 be slow?  Should we take the other route?  Should we leave a little earlier?  Could we expect to be on time?  Accidents, or at least breakdowns, were common.  There were a lot of people and a lot of cars, and we didn’t even travel through Hartford.  That was busy.

But the roads are getting busy around here.  When I drive north past Burlington during peak commuting time, cars line the highway southbound waiting to exit toward Vermont’s largest city.  It gets crowded.  We have pretty crappy public transportation, partly because of the still somewhat rural nature of the surrounding communities.  The backed up roads seem a good reason to invest in public transportation.  Rail lines already exist in many areas in northwest Vermont, but there is only one commuter train to speak of.

I don’t mind the driving, knowing that it could be a lot worse.  It did used to be much smoother to get around in a car, but I won’t complain.  If it gets so bad that I feel I need to complain, then I need to make sure I am taking action to make a difference.  I don’t know that I can swing commuting on a bicycle 28 miles and still help the kids get to school in the morning, but if I get it together I could travel to other places by bike.  I am working at home tomorrow, so that helps a little.

Really I would rather take the train, or even the bus, but until that happens I will add to the general melee.  I will be one of those about whom people who grew up here wonder.  “Where do all these people come from?” they might ask.  “And why is that guy smiling in all this traffic?”