These things are not supposed to happen in Perfect World.
If you have paid attention to these stories over the years, perhaps you’ve noticed that one particular vacation destination of mine shows up a bit more often than others. Nothing is as relaxing to me as a couple of days at Disney World in Florida. Sherill and I have been there a few times in the last four years. My sister and her family took me along a couple of times prior to that. Add them all together and the math works just fine for me, thank you very much. It got to the point that we would keep telling my folks about all the great adventures we’d have in Florida and encouraging them to join us sometime. They were always skeptical. The length and severity of this winter finally got all the stars aligned properly. They decided they would join us and head to Florida!
This year marks 60 years of marriage for my parents. The official date of that anniversary isn’t until August, but we decided to play up that angle a little bit to close the sale and get them to come along with us. To extend the family tree even more, we had Sherill’s mother, Sharon, come along with us, too. She’s a retired schoolteacher, so it’s not like she had to find someone to milk cows or feed the steers for her if she slipped away for a few days off in a much warmer climate.
I did a little geography work and discovered that tickets into and out of Fort Myers, Fla., were actually better than going through Orlando, both price-wise and time-wise. We ended up getting a direct flight from Minneapolis to Fort Myers and didn’t have to leave at dawn or in the dark of night. To top it off, as I was checking flights and seat arrangements, a window popped up on my screen. For an unusually low price, I could switch my coach tickets to first-class. It wouldn’t be as cheap as we were used to on our other flights, but it wasn’t several hundred dollars more like it usually was. That’s when I reminded myself of a theme for the trip: How many times are you going to be able to do this? In that case, why not make it fun?
First-class it would be!
The flight to Fort Myers was quite enjoyable, albeit with one glaring exception. Yes, there was a significant difference in refreshments and dining options in this part of the plane compared to where we usually sit, but my choices for the meal were between different versions of chicken. Yes,CHICKEN! Put me right up there in Bob Uecker-quality seats and they didn’t even have the decency to give me any real food. Instead, it was just . . . fowl meat.
Around 8:30 the night of our arrival in Florida, we showed up at our resort. It didn’t take long once we were inside before my folks understood why we like going there. No one confuses it with a Motel 6 or a Super 8.
Having senior citizens with us raised another issue, especially after our visit a month or so before when Sherill and I wore our Fitbit pedometers. What we originally thought was a moderate amount of walking had now been quantified for us. It was officially a ton of walking. I believe we’d racked up a bit more than nine miles each day. That didn’t really strike me as the kind of numbers a couple of octogenarians would want to put up on their first day at Disney. Nothing sucks the fun out of a vacation like a heart attack and/or hip failure.
A previous trip got me wondering, so I took some mental notes. We could rent wheelchairs at the park for about $14 per day. That would eliminate all the walking for my folks. Of course, it would replace that walking on their part with me as the power source. I would be the mule essentially pulling a plow through some prairie to break the virgin sod in about 1832. That math didn’t work for me.
What did work for me was a machine. All kinds of people were zipping around the park on their motorized scooters. None of them was squealing tires, or doing wheelies, or mowing down an excessive number of fellow Disney fans. They all seemed to be going at a moderate speed and enjoying themselves immensely. Purely by coincidence, I also noticed that they seemed to be bypassing an inordinate number of lines when queuing up for a ride. Not only that, but their whole party seemed to be joining them at the less-than-fleet-of-foot entry points. The last thing I’d want would be for my parents to get on a ride or tour of some kind and not be sure where they were headed or what they may see on their adventure if they were alone. If I were there with them, I’d be able to give them a heads-up on where to go, what to look for and things like that.
I’m considerate, not lazy and selfish.
Two scooters had been booked before we left Iowa. They would be delivered to our condo. We could use them for our allotted time and then return them to the same spot so the company rep could pick them up and take them to another person with an incredibly thoughtful child.
In the morning after breakfast, we went to the lobby of the condo at 8:02 to retrieve our chariots from their supposed 8:00 delivery. The kid at the front desk knew nothing about them, even though the scooter company rep I’d talked to said they’d be left at the front desk for us. A call to the company revealed that their staffer had indeed delivered the chariots for us, and he’d left them on the second floor and given the keys to the clerk at the front desk. A quick trip upstairs revealed two scooters with my name on them, but without keys. Another stop at the front desk revealed my first staffer at one spot and another one nearby on the phone at another computer screen. I opted to use my long history of working with livestock and decided not to try to do the same series of maneuvers with the first one while expecting different results. Had I brought a tool for handling livestock, perhaps I would have tried another round with him. Alas, my HotShot was still at home, not even plugged in since the hogs left years before.
I waited for the second staffer to get off the phone and then asked her if someone from the scooter company had left the keys for my rentals. She reached over to the drawer in front of the first staffer, pulled it out, grabbed something and said to me, “Yes, here they are, Mr. Ryan. Is there anything else I can do for you?”
Wow. Service and initiative. What an apparently rare combo!
The minivan was loaded with scooters and tourists. We made our way to Epcot to begin the day. The trip through the park worked out pretty much like I had hoped. The weather wasn’t nearly as warm as it was on our previous trip a month before, but my folks ended up bundled in enough coats to keep them warm as they motored around. We took some photos and made our way to one of my favorite rides — Spaceship Earth — the giant golf ball inside the front gate. Sure enough, we bypassed the long line and were sent to the handicapped entrance. Our wait was truly minimal. Next thing you know, we were boarding our transport vehicle for a trip through the past and into the future. It ended up being a big hit. The senior members of our group were having a great time.
The rest of the day went well for all concerned. By the time our day was finished, we had seen and done a lot of stuff, so we headed back to the condo. Several people turned in early. The last thing you want is to be too tired while you’re at the park the next day.
We were asleep when some noise showed up in the background around 11:00 or so. Sherill heard it right away. I didn’t, but it was soon brought to my attention. The noise sure sounded like a fire alarm. Sherill went to the front door and opened it. That’s when the alarm became more apparent. Another guest was out in the hallway. He said the elevators were not working, so the alarm may be for real.
Again, the math problem showed up. We were on the 11th floor. There would be no elevator service. Not a big deal for the two of us, but we had three Social Security recipients with us. As cushy as the seats on the two scooters seemed, they really weren’t going to provide Car & Driver-approved comfort when bouncing down 11 flights of stairs! If we had to hoof it, I wasn’t seeing that as a quick solution either. Then there would be the return trip if this was a false alarm. That math was totally different than the going downstairs part of the story problem.
I kept thinking about my sisters’ instructions prior to the trip: "Don’t wear out the parents." Eleven flights of stairs would pretty much violate that one in no time. Of course, putting them in a slow-roast situation similar to The Towering Inferno wasn’t exactly going to score me a lot of points either!
An executive decision was made. I’d head downstairs and see what was going on down there. If it was a false alarm, we’d sort of, uh, keep this tidbit to ourselves and not disrupt the sleep of our parents. If there were a lot of flames and more of an emergency situation, I’d call Sherill, do the 11 flights in short order and begin the elder evacuation program.
It didn’t take long downstairs to get some information. A couple of fire trucks were there, but I couldn’t see any flames shooting from the building. Listening is the key, so I kept my mouth shut as usual and let others who enjoy the sound of their own voice do the work. (I’m considerate, not stupid.)
The fire crew didn’t look thrilled. That told me they weren’t going to get their equipment out and put it to work. A woman standing near me said that she and her family had seen two young boys about eight and ten years old running around on the fourth floor just before the alarm went off. She had asked them what they were doing “and they took off.”
Okey-doke. Let’s find ’em and string ’em up. Case closed. Again, me without my HotShot when I really need it!
The fact that the temperature was unseasonably cold didn’t help matters much. No one wanted to be standing around outside when it’s 45 degrees in Orlando. That sort of led to some quicker decision-making, I think. We weren’t there long before the fire crew and hotel staff said that what we had was a false alarm and we could all go back inside. I decided to snap a couple photos to commemorate the event. Incidentally, the “Fire Command Center” at the condo is an empty, windowless conference room with a folding table in the middle. It wasn’t even a nice table. Besides that, the room was empty. It didn’t seem commanding at all to me, but what do I know? I’m just a township trustee who funds a fire department. At least their trucks looked decent. Maybe someday they’ll get chairs.
I made my way back upstairs with a bunch of my fellow guests. We may have pushed the limits of the elevator, but I think that number flexes with the outside temperature and the clock. Cold and late equals an automatic 35% increase in capacity. Step right on, Chunkles.
When I got back to the room, I told Sherill what I’d found. Then we discussed exactly when and how we were going to broach the topic with our fellow snoozing roommates.
“Look, we didn’t want to disrupt your sleep. Who wants to be tired when they’re at Disney World? It’s not like there were huge flames or anything. We’d have at least banged on your door if we’d smelled smoke or saw flames. This was just a test. Routine stuff. No big deal. Just keep thinking of all of those stairs you didn’t get to climb – up or down. Then remind yourself: ‘He let me sleep through the whole thing and I didn’t get worn out or have a heart attack doing all those stairs. Man, that kid is considerate!’”
Guy No. 2