Wednesday, March 25, 2015

Curmudgeon takes a vacation -- Part II -- The Careful Plan

Having had my bluff called on the Florida trip, there was nothing to do now but figure out how to make things happen.

I had one piece of hard data: I had the South Janesville College baseball team's itinerary, showing the addresses of the three different parks, in three different towns. With Google Maps I could readily determine that there were significant distances from each to each -- a half hour's drive or more. The logical conclusion from this was we would need a car for the week.

Having determined that we must rent a car for the week, then the question became whether we should fly down to either Orlando or Tampa -- our destinations were roughly in between -- or whether we should rent a car here and take it there. I'd done that once before, about 17 years ago, when we took a family vacation to Camp Lejeune. Marine bases are not traditional vacation destinations, but Penny's husband Carl was stationed there at the time (Penny was my wife's college roommate, you may recall) and they were able to rent a doublewide trailer on the beach where we could all hang out. I don't remember where we actually stayed on that trip -- at Penny and Carl's home, I assume, but I'm not certain. But there are two things I do remember. First, this was the most unspoiled beach I'd ever seen this side of the pages of National Geographic -- imagine an almost deserted beach on the Atlantic Ocean, closed to all but Marine officers and their guests -- and but for the tanks practicing maneuvers a mile or so behind us every day, it was as quiet as it was deserted. The second thing I remember is that, although we had nice weather at the beach, we had rain going to and coming from North Carolina. Lots and lots of rain. Buckets. Torrents. It made for an interesting drive....

But, anyway, we'd rented a van on that occasion because we did not think our family van up to the long trip. The old van did last a good six years more -- but now, as I planned for the Florida trip, that old van's successor -- our current family van -- is just about 11 years old. I didn't want to tempt fate. So I was receptive to renting a vehicle here for the drive.

I admit to a certain prejudice against air travel. I hate it. I hate the phony security (universal inconvenience makes no one safer). I hate the increasingly random pricing schedule. If I buy on a Tuesday with one eye closed I can pay x per ticket, but if I wait until Wednesday with both eyes open I might pay 1.5x or even 2x. Unless I caught the special on Thursday night between 11:00 and 11:15 p.m., when I'd pay .75x.

I can put up with the zig-zag prices, but then there are the extra fees -- like for checking bags. There was no way we could go to Florida for a week and have carry-on luggage only. For one thing, my wife and I would need to bring at least one computer -- she had grades to finish and I had to monitor my practice, such as it is. I had to have enough 'stuff' with me to operate from a hotel room in Florida at least as well as I could from home. Have you ever tried typing a letter on a cell phone? Cell phones are great for reading email -- but any task more complicated becomes well nigh impossible.

Oh, yes, the computer was another vacation cost: We had to buy the laptop for Florida. We had a laptop we'd been using -- but it was an XP machine and Windows (how I hate Bill Gates) recently decided to stop supporting XP. The still-functional machine was now useless -- unless I didn't want to connect in any way to the Internet -- and connecting to the Internet for business is kind of the whole idea when one travels. Now I have a brand new Windows 8.1 machine -- which is almost as good as the one I was using (yes, I'm sure it's a technological order of magnitude better in some respects, but none that concern a word-processing, email reading person like myself) except that it's not yet paid for.

I did scout out airfares, but once I figured out that the cost of flying would equal or exceed the cost of renting a car for the week, my heart wasn't really in it. I had to revive my membership in the National Emerald Club, but it seemed to me like I had made great progress in the planning of the event.

Not so to Long Suffering Spouse, however. "We're going to drive?" she asked. "The whole way?"

I explained the bases of my recommendation. Long Suffering Spouse was resigned to the inevitable, if not exactly enthused about the prospect. "What if it snows?" she asked. "We have to go through mountains. What if there's ice storms?"

Negotiations continued throughout that week. Long Suffering Spouse was paying increasing attention to The Weather Channel long-range forecasts (and these were becoming ominous). And there was one more thing preying on my wife's mind, as she announced one Saturday morning when Olaf and Younger Daughter and Granddaughter No. 1 were visiting. "Where are we staying on this trip? I'm not sleeping in the car!"

I hadn't attempted to book a hotel room yet, it was true. There were three widely separated baseball fields to consider, in a part of the country I didn't know at all (I'd been to a deposition once in the greater Orlando area, as I recalled for certain during the course of the trip, but that was for a single night and day -- and the deposition was at the hotel). Cautious individual that I am, I was interested only in major chain hotels -- I'm sure there are wonderful places down there not affiliated with any major chain -- but how was I, from Chicago, supposed to ferret these out? Internet reviews? Please. Internet reviews are written by (a) trolls or (b) the mothers, spouses, and other family members of the business owner.

I tried searching within a radius of a certain number of miles from each park's address. A lot of places were already full up -- there were a lot of college baseball teams being rotated through central Florida in March for this never ending 'tournament.' Harvard was going to play there for a single game. No, seriously. The actual Harvard, as in don't-pahk-yah-cah-in-Hahvad-yahd Harvard. Harvard wasn't playing South Janesville, but still -- Harvard.

Anyway, we could assume that all the best places filled up first and we'd have to sort among the dregs. Again, this is why I was focusing on major chains -- eventually, I found one in Winter Haven, Florida that seemed to meet all the criteria -- major chain -- near one of the parks where the boys would play -- reasonably priced, but supposedly with refrigerator and microwave -- the picture of the typical room looked quite nice -- and there were no glaring troll reviews.

I announced my selection to the assembled throng. But, I said -- again, my native caution coming to the fore -- I would only book the room through Tuesday -- Sunday, Monday, Tuesday -- leaving us potentially at liberty thereafter. My wife was appalled. "We'd have to start looking all over again?" she asked.

"Well, yes," I began, "but at least we'd be in the area and could see for ourselves. And if we liked the place, we could almost certainly extend our stay there for the whole trip."

I could see Long Suffering Spouse building up to a major objection to this plan, but Younger Daughter chose that moment to interject, "That makes sense to me. When we went to Minnesota" (she and Olaf had gone there a couple of years ago for an extended weekend) "I wished we could have changed hotels. Where we were was nice, but there were other places we wanted to see but we couldn't get there and back to our hotel in time."

Long Suffering Spouse throttled down.

I booked the rooms. I suppose I should have wondered more at the no cancellation policy, but I was thinking that -- at that busy time of the year -- the hotels wouldn't want to hold empty rooms that they thought they were going to get paid for.

So we had a plan -- logically arrived at, the product of careful study of all known information, after due and careful consideration.


We were about to learn -- again -- the wisdom of Von Moltke's maxim, no battle plan survives contact with the enemy.

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