TERRE HAUTE —
The first bad sign was the Gatorade bottle.
In the Bataan-Death-March drive to Orlando that got the Amey family spring break vacation off to a bad start, seeing it between lanes of I-24 — as we zipped along at a 100-miles-in-five-hours clip — filled with an ominous yellow liquid was a little bit scary. And although we didn't stop to check for sure, I'm fairly certain I knew about its contents.
And the person stuck in the same traffic jam with us, the one with the existential license plate YMIHR4, couldn’t have asked a more pertinent question.
But, after seeing a lot more of Oak Grove, Ky., than we’d planned, and after enduring more traffic slowdowns in Nashville, we were on our way. Even some rain in the dark in the Smokies didn’t slow us down much, so you would think our first-day troubles were over.
You would be wrong.
We had a two-bedroom suite reserved in Smyrna, Ga., on the northern outskirts of Atlanta, and it was approaching midnight — and 12-plus hours on the road — when we got to town and revived another Amey vacation tradition: me getting lost. Despite a GPS (which kept telling us how far we had to go to get to the Culver’s in Plainfield) and despite some help (?) from a girl in a different hotel who went to high school with Shakir Bell, it took us another 45 minutes or so to reach our destination.
Problems over? Not even you folks believe that by now, do you.
JoJo is having some hip problems, and Jenny’s not as lithe and limber as she used to be, but it never occurred to me that I’d need to make a handicapped-accessible reservation. At almost 1 a.m. we discovered we were in what the hotel called its penthouse suite — down two flights of stairs, up four flights of stairs. No elevator, no luggage cart to ease the burden on grandson Garrett and me in hauling all the baggage. But everyone took it well.
You don’t believe that either, I’ll bet.
But, as it turned out, the worst was pretty much over. Grandchildren, in our family at least, mean technical expertise, so we turned the GPS — and other electronic details — over to Garrett the rest of the way and things got a lot easier.
That wasn’t to say there weren’t a couple of other major disappointments. After slogging our way through the rest of Georgia on our second day of driving, for example, we discovered the free orange and grapefruit juice normally served at the Florida Welcome Center were unavailable on a holiday weekend. And the Cuban restaurant in Kissimmee that’s been a favorite of Jenny’s and mine for several Florida trips has apparently closed, leaving me without my vacation allotment of Jupina.
But we persevered. We found ourselves in a great hotel in northern Orlando (Sheraton Maitland) with a nice workout room for me and the kids and complimentary newspapers for me, and after one obligation to get out of the way we settled in to enjoy ourselves.
Said lodgings were provided by somebody who wanted to sell us something — what are the odds, huh? — but we resisted with aplomb despite a very congenial salesman. We were helped in that regard by the fact that our presentation took place at the same resort where, 14 years earlier, we’d purchased a timeshare. Two of the salespeople we recognized from that earlier encounter; one, the guy who told my wife, “Jenny, that mouse ain’t never gonna die,” seemed considerably better off, while the other … not so much. Kind of poignant, with a touch of hilarity.
Our presentation did give us a Disney discount (but no hopper pass, like we got 14 years ago), so we had a day at Epcot (tip from there: even though it’s free, the Italian soda isn’t worth it). Darcy, who was already the trip’s unsung hero for sitting most of the time in the car’s extra seat with the luggage, clinched that designation by not insisting on a trip to Magic Kingdom.
The kids and I also made it to Sea World, where Garrett survived a wild ride on the Manta roller coaster, and the boys and I drove to Tampa to see the Lightning play the Florida Panthers. Garrett helped me navigate StubHub for the first — and definitely not last — time for reasonably priced tickets that I think made him a hockey fan like JoJo became after our Nashville trip two years ago (one convert at a time).
All three kids expanded their culinary horizons, including the Japanese experience, upscale Italian fare and a different Cuban restaurant for a mini-reunion with old friends Rudy (who’s lived in Florida for awhile) and Terry and Susan (who have become snowbirds). We also found Zaxby’s both going and coming home.
The trip back, incidentally, was a breeze by comparison. We were able to enjoy both Florida and mountain scenery in daylight, we left on Thursday and thereby seemed to beat some of the spring-break northbound traffic, and we got a much better hotel situation — even if finding medical supplies in a hurry in Hapeville, Ga., isn’t particularly easy (sorry we didn’t have time for soul food at African Kitchen too, by the way).
Florida has not, however, gotten any cheaper, and I have a hunch we won’t be driving there again soon.
At least not without a grandchild.
Andy Amey can be reached after 4 p.m. at 812-231-4277 or 1-800-783-8742; by email at email@example.com. Follow @TribStarAndy on Twitter.