The skies were dark, a foreboding of what lay ahead. Today I would part ways with my yellow companion of the past 7 days, my Corvette ZHZ. It was always going to be a bitter sweet moment having travelled almost a thousand miles together but it was made all the more bitter by the fact I couldn’t take it with me to Discovery’s last launch. Still I was determined to make the most of this day, rising early so that I could take my time driving her back to the place from whence she once came. Whilst I wasn’t really that emotional I still couldn’t help but look back over my shoulder at the stunning piece of automobile engineering whilst I slowly walked away.
I was in a daze for a good hour afterwards, wandering around Orlando airport trying to figure out what to do. I had a couple hours to burn until I picked up my next car, a convertible of some description, and I hadn’t had any breakfast. The pickings on this side of the airport were quite slim as I had been over them several times whilst I was staying at the Hyatt but I finally settled on some yoghurt and coffee from the local Starbucks. I had came prepared for this brief interlude back at the airport with my copy of Pandora’s Star grasped firmly in one hand and proceeded to devour a couple chapters whilst I waited for my next ride to be ready.
I’m always a little nervous when it comes to booking things over the Internet and this was no exception. Having only booked this a couple nights ago I was hoping that everything was ok and I would be walking out there, FSM willing, with some kind of car that would make it to the KSC tomorrow. Thankfully everything checked out and 30 minutes later I was in possession of a red convertible Ford Mustang. I was flying blind this time around as I hadn’t bothered to get a GPS for it but I was confident I could find my way back home since I had done it enough times in the corvette, but time would tell on that one.
Then just as I was leaving the skies began to rain down with nearly the same fury I had felt whilst I was down in Miami. It was as if nature itself was abhorred by the notion of me driving another car, weeping for two companions separated by circumstances. I managed to pull under an overpass and figured out the roof just in the nick of time saving myself and the pristine interior the torrential downpour that was now savaging the area. In amongst all this I noticed I had found myself on the same road I had gotten lost on the first day I spent driving here in the USA, promptly righting my course and finding my way home about 30 minutes later.
I spent the majority of my day here in the hotel, watching videos and reading a couple more chapters of my book. It was a tactical move to try and aid in the healing of my foot in preparation for tomorrow since I didn’t want to be hopping around in pain when the shuttle roars into action tomorrow afternoon. On any other day it would’ve been one I considered wasted but with the downpour and relatively cold conditions all across Florida currently it didn’t seem like a bad way to spend the day. It would’ve been even better if I could’ve spent it cuddled up with my wife in front of the TV, but our separation (which was due to end tomorrow) put an end to that idea before it began. I’ll just have to make up for lost time when we see each other again.
Spending the whole day indoors did leave me a little restless so I decided I’d at least attempt to find somewhere to eat outside of the hotel. Driving around for 30 minutes I couldn’t find anything past crappy chain restaurants or fast food, certainly nothing worth the price of admission like it was back in Miami. Defeated I returned to my hotel room and ordered room service, which they got wrong. I wasn’t really about to argue with it though since I wasn’t particularly hungry and the meal they had sent up was decent¹.
Tomorrow will, hopefully, be the climax of my 11 days spent here in the sunny southern state. The enormity of it has still yet to set in and I’m sill anxiously awaiting confirmation that my flight has been changed but those aside it still excites me that I’ll be able to bear witness to something as awesome as a shuttle launch. No doubt tomorrow’s post will be one of elation, awe and a drained wallet as my fiscal conservative side gets pushed aside by that little boy in me who just won’t stop dreaming about becoming an astronaut and wants that t-shirt to go with it. I’ve been ever so jealous of those lucky people who got in on the NASA tweetup, living vicariously through them as I follow their tweets and pictures. Hopefully I’ll get to join them next year (hint hint) when I come over to see the very last shuttle launch.
¹Just as I was finishing up this post they brought up the correct order and said the other meal was on the house. Well that was lucky and it would be even better if I had a fridge in this place. Maybe it’s time to make an impromptu one with wet towels in the bathroom, that ought to keep it cool enough for breakfast tomorrow morning! 😉
I was on a high from my trip yesterday having lucked out into the air show I wasn’t able to track down and narrowly escaping any sunburn despite my late and hastily applied sunscreen. The morning however started slow as my in room air conditioner had flipped itself from the previous night choosing to bake me in the Florida heat rather than trying to freeze my head as it did the night before. I first checked my email to see if there had been any word from my travel agent so I could go about planning (or not) the extra day that I would spend here so I could see Discovery’s last launch.
Whilst I hadn’t heard from my original travel agent one of her colleagues was watching her inbox and got back to me. The flight changes would set me back a cool $150, just $2 over the limit I had given them to take action without first confirming it with me. I sent her a reply back saying to go ahead and then hit up Hotwire to secure myself a room for the night. Hoping to luck out and get a room in the airport again (saving me a few headaches) I found that there were only 3 star hotels available in the airport area, knowing this meant the airport was out of the question. Checking with the hotel directly also proved fruitless all their rooms were booked out. The room I got was extremely cheap though and only a short drive to the airport so I figured that it wasn’t too bad, plus I’d need to book the car for 2 days in order to cover tomorrow afternoon after I returned the corvette and the trip out to the Kennedy Space Centre.
Getting a car also proved to be slightly difficult. There were a few with an extremely good rate however their return point wasn’t in the airport. Not wanting to have to chance getting a cab from there to the airport I decided that I’d pay the premium to get one I could return to the terminal. This also increased the range of vehicles that were available to me, including a convertible Ford Mustang (or similar, but here’s hoping). With that booked I was all set to go to the KSC on launch day, provided nothing else made the schedule slip again.
After perusing my usual sites I thought a grand tour of Orlando would be a good way to spend the day. I had a couple markets sussed out as well as a couple of the local parks which would have provided some great photographic opportunities. I began at the Orlando Prime Outlets, basically an overgrown strip mall with factory outlets from all the major brands. A couple shops caught my attention but there wasn’t anything really unique there, I could get all of this at home for pretty similar prices. When I’m overseas I like to get things that I just can’t get at home like the hand made turtle lamp we got whilst on Turtle Island. After about an hour of walking around I noticed that it was getting harder to walk normally thanks to a pain in the middle of my left foot. I sat down to give it some time to rest.
Upon resuming walking however the pain hadn’t quelled as much as I had expected it to. Fearing the worst I went back to my hotel room and let it rest for a couple hours, devouring a couple chapters of Pandora’s Star in the process. Getting up and walking around I felt I a little better so I decided to visit one of the parks I had tracked down. By the time I reached the car I knew that walking on this foot wasn’t doing it any good but I decided to go for the drive anyway, wanting to get the most out of this last full day I had with my yellow beauty. I didn’t end up getting out of the car since the area I wanted to go to was sectioned off for a concert they were holding tonight. If it wasn’t for my foot I’d probably be there right now, blast it all.
Coming back to the hotel room feeling defeated I had resigned myself to shamefully calling room service again (3rd time at this hotel) and resting the foot up whilst wasting away to American TV. About an hour into this pit of self loathing I felt inspired to not let the last night of my time with the corvette go idly by and hobbled my way down to it for one last night of shenanigans. I drove around randomly for a good 15 minutes until a thought struck me, why don’t I do a night shoot of the car? The auto HDR on the camera would make for some impressive shots, so I looked around for somewhere with some light (and absent of people) to do my shoot, and I found the perfect place.
It was the front of a truck depot just off the highway, lit by dozens of lights with nary a skerrick of people to be found. I snapped quite a few shots and will endeavour to get them all online sometime (along with the numerous other pictures) but this one is probably the best of the lot. The yellow just seems so much more vibrant than in the other pictures I’ve got.
I had still resigned to going back to the hotel for dinner since my initial attempt to get into Olive Garden had been thwarted again by the massive late night dining crowd there. However on the way back from the photo shoot I noticed a burger joint I had read about before, Five Guys Burger and Fries. I pulled in to find I was the only customer there but was instantly greeted and served. About 10 minutes later I had my dinner and was off back to the hotel where I spent the next half hour consuming the mad burger and only a handful of the half kilo of fries they had given me.
Today has the overwhelming feeling of snatching victory from the jaws of defeat. Had I not been spurned on by Brett’s words in the comments and Dave’s recent posts about his China trip I would’ve spent the entire time sitting in the hotel room feeling sorry for myself. Whilst my foot may not recover as quickly for this I still believe it was worth it as the pictures I got on the last night with my lovely yellow beast will bring back fond memories of ignoring my self preservation instincts and just having a good time larking around. That’s something I can’t really put a price tag on.
Ever since the wonderful day I had exploring Miami yesterday I had been dreading this morning, it was time for me to check out of the Viceroy and head back to Orlando. When I first arrived I was a little overwhelmed with the level of service and opulence that was presented before me but after spending just a mere 4 nights there I began to grow accustomed to it, revelling in the luxury. As they say though all good things must come to an end and so it was that I packed up my things and began getting ready to check out. I had the room until 12pm so I thought I’d make the most of it by catching up on the latest news and watching all of the Legion of Extraordinary Dancers on Hulu. This had the unfortunate consequence of alerting me to something dire to my whole reason for being here.
The shuttle launch had been delayed, again.
When I first planned the trip to include my jaunt over here to Florida I had initially budgeted a week (so that Rebecca could have time with her best friend in the world, Laura) for me to hop around and have fun in the Corvette with a couple days at the end for the shuttle launch, some slack to make sure I didn’t miss it due to weather events. The first delay was well within this schedule and whilst it was shocking at the time I could handle it by just booking another rental car to cover the trip out there and back to the airport the next day. This next delay however posed a more serious problem as I would be flying out that day at 12pm and the launch wasn’t scheduled until 3 hours later. After an hour of unmitigated panic I decided I wasn’t going to be fucked by a day and shot an email off to my travel agent hoping to get the flight moved without having to pay out the ass for it. A quick check of the flights shows I could book it on my own for about $120 and another night in a hotel wouldn’t break the budget. I should hopefully hear back from her sometime tomorrow, letting me see the shuttle launch and validating my whole reason for being here.
With that all settled I went downstairs to check out and to grab the Corvette so I could get out of there. It was a pretty uneventful drive back, but it was far more enjoyable than the one down. On the way down I was still fighting off the last little bit of my jet lag making the last hour or so of the drive quite tiresome. Today however I was very well rested and I’d finally grown accustomed to the heat and humidity making the drive that much more pleasurable. I even took a little time out to make a 0-60 video of the corvette and put the top down for the first time since I got it. I should’ve done it sooner because damn, it just looks sexy when it’s topless:
It’s a bit too much when you’re doing 75mph though so I had to put it back down after a couple miles of getting my head blown around. I reconciled to spend the last few days with the top down as much as humanly possible though, it really is quite fun (especially putting it up and down, it’s fully motorised).
The hotel I had chosen for my last few days here in Orlando was the Crown Plaza Universal. The name makes it sound a lot better than it actually is but I guess it’s more oriented to families who are staying here to go to Disney World rather than the strapping male technophile like the Viceroy was. Case in point I had to pay for my Internet connection here where every other hotel I’ve stayed in has provided it free of charge. This place is considerably cheaper than the rest of them though and they still have a gym.
After I got settled in and had a quick work out my mind shifted towards finding some dinner. Firing up Yelp brought up quite a few good locations all within a long walk/short drive away with the best of them unfortunately being lunch only places. I finally settled on the Hanamizuki Japanese restaurant which had quite a few good reviews. After driving over there and waiting about 10 minutes to be seated (they weren’t that busy, but seemed to miss me and the 10 customers standing behind me somehow) I was seated down at the sushi bar and given their extremely large menu. The food was pretty good, definitely worth the price and I’d actually rate it above Zuma. Reason being the people here were actual Japanese nationals, not the wasians at Zuma who spoke (admittedly good) rapid fire Japanese at you. I didn’t think twice when the chef offered me some sashimi in Japanese, thanking him with a quick “arigatoo” to which he responded “doo itashimashite”, which means you’re welcome.
Returning to my car I was reminded of the day I had yesterday and how much good had came from just exploring. The tempreature was still quite nice even at this late hour so I decided to jump in, get the top down and go for a cruise. I set off in one random direction and found myself on the main strip of this part of Orlando with lights and all sorts of things lining the street. It was beautiful in its own way, a tribute to the American way of life. The moment was wholly captured by the instant when I pressed the accelerator just that little harder than I had done before and the corvette let out a note of which I had never heard before. It was beautiful, like a caged lion being released from its bonds into the wild. The second I came to from that moment of pure automobile ecstasy I laughed in a way I haven’t done in years. That pure feeling of joy that comes from doing something so utterly ridiculous that bypasses every other part of your brain and just tickles the pleasure centres. The grin wouldn’t leave my face for almost an hour afterwards.
With that came thoughts of what to do tomorrow. I’m thinking a cruise down to the beach with the top down will be perfect, with the corvette getting a good boot on the way there and back. I think I’ve finally hit that part of the trip where I finally drop all those barriers that I put up to protect myself when I’m in an unknown situation and with that I’m ready to just relax and let the trip happen all on its own.
Damn it feels good 😀
Again my alarm woke me today with its irritating buzzing. This time however I did not shun it into silence repeatedly, I did it once and promptly obeyed the order it gave me. I shot out of bed and started getting ready for the day that lie before me as this was to be the grandest of days in the short yet painful times I have spent absent of my wife. Today I would trade in my red training wheels for a sleek yellow dragon that I would ride for 4 hours down to the tropical location of Miami. Today was the day when I got back to my roots when 15 years earlier I took my first drive by myself in a Datsun 120Y.
Today, I would get me a Chevrolet Corvette.
But before I could get my hands on such untold fun I had to run an errand first. Although I hadn’t gone far in the little red Yaris the day previously I had done enough to use up a noticeable amount of fuel. Plotting the course on Google maps showed that I could do the round trip to the closest 7/11 in just under 15 mins. Guessing that it would take me about 15 mins to fuel up I then doubled my estimate to an hour, thinking that the amount of fail that I had attracted on this trip thus far ensured that should I cut it any closer I wouldn’t have the car back before I got slugged with another days rental. Good thing I did this too as I couldn’t for the life of me find the blasted car, roaming the parking lot aimlessly for a good 30 minutes before realising that I was on the wrong level. With the car fuelled up I returned it to its keepers and went about securing my quarry.
Now when I had first booked my training car the website told me I was getting a Toyota Corolla. The Yaris is roughly identical so there’s no big deal there, but it had me worrying about whether or not I’d get an actual Corvette or something similar (like a Mustang). Not that I would’ve knocked it back but I had been hyping this moment up in my head for quite some time, and not driving a the yellow beast I had imagined would’ve had me feeling like the whole deal was rather pointless. 30 tentative minutes later they radioed someone to bring around my new prize to where I was, and all my fears were laid to rest.
Thanks to my slightly nervous nature I had been bothering the poor Hertz attendants up until they brought the car around. They got their own back though, noting the almost giddy look I had on my face when the Corvette finally rolled around. It too was perfect, a beautiful yellow accented with a single black stripe down the middle, just as I had imagined it. There’s little room to spare in the vehicle though with my bag only just fitting in the boot and having to wind the seats almost all the way down and back to fit my 6 foot frame into it. Still the moment when I pushed the ignition button (yes, like a flippin’ RACE CAR) I forgot all about those worries and set about punching in my first destination on the GPS: the local Walmart. Whilst I can see the irony in taking a rather expensive car to one of the cheapest places on earth I needed to get some supplies before embarking on the 4 hour journey south to Miami and of course I wanted to see Walmart 😉
The GPS got me there without a hitch, proving that I should’ve just got one of the damn things earlier rather than trying to cheap out on something so valuable. Upon entering the Walmart I was struck by how similar it was to Big W we have back in Australia but the similarities were only skin deep. The fact that I could find almost anything that I needed there kind of shocked me, from pharmaceuticals to clothing to even jewellery left me awe struck as I walked slack jawed around this monstrous store. Then I saw the prices, almost unbelievable how they could make money on anything that they sell there. Still you don’t get to be the Fortune number 1 company for nothing so obviously their ability to shift massive volumes means they can get prices that no one else can.
No wonder people fight them whenever they try to set up in their little neighbourhoods.
After grabbing a few things I made my way out and programmed the GPS for my final destination, the Viceroy hotel in Miami. After a few short turns I was out onto the highway where the speed limit is a cool 70 miles an hour. Having only given the car a couple quick boots to see how it would go I wanted to do a standing 0-70 in it and the highway seemed to be the best place to do it. I pulled over to the side of the road and then waited for the traffic to break so I could really put my foot down. A couple minutes later I did and the thrill was nothing short of amazing. The car literally threw my head back into the seat as its 436 horses roared into action, propelling me to 60 in just over 4 seconds with 70 coming in not less than a second later. A quick bit of research shows that this particular breed Corvette, the ZHZ, was specifically built for Hertz themselves and had a few performance tweaks along the way. Having something like that must be a business boon for them, especially with nutjobs like me chomping at the bit to have a go in one of them.
The drive down to Miami was fairly uneventful, as most long drives are. The scenery was familiar yet different with shrubs being the dominant species rather than large eucalypts. I made a couple pit stops at the “Service Centres” which appear to be miniature shopping malls with their own food court and selected shops, mostly perfume and sun glasses. About 15 minutes away from my final destination and the traffic started getting wild, jolting me out of my semi jet-lagged state that had developed over the past 4 hours. Still I arrived at my location safely, and boy was I in for a surprise.
This was my first ever time having a car taken from me by a valet and the whole thing happened so quick that I was inside with all my things before I realised I was out of the car. The bell hop, who appeared to be more of a concierge, took me up to my room and showed me around it. He also gave me some tips on where to go whilst I was staying since I had no idea what I was going to do other than work out in the gym and blog about my mishaps online. I barely listened to him though as the room had me transfixed for the entire time he was there.
No one picture does this room justice, every piece of it just screams high class and opulence of the highest order. The bathroom and main entrance are lavished in marble with chrome accents everywhere. The wardrobe is two giant mirrors covered in wood that hide not only the closet but also a full sink, microwave, stove and coffee machine. It’s bordering on a self contained apartment but for the price I paid (about $500 for 4 nights) I wasn’t expecting this. Hotwire really does earn whatever money they made off me when I made all those bookings.
I had also decided that I didn’t want to dine in the hotel as my last experience with that hadn’t been too great. Hitting up Yelp on my iPhone I found a local restaurant called Zuma not more than 5 minutes walk from where I was. The reviews were quite spectacular and it was Japanese so I thought I had a slight inkling into what I was getting into. As it turns out this was quite the place to be with the place being packed on this quite Tuesday afternoon and I was only able to be seated at the sushi bar. Still I was going to make the most of it and order a full meal and a Hitachino White Ale to wash it down. I had read in one of the reviews that they were a bit antsy about taking pictures so I refrained but the bottle was a curious one with an anime owl adorning the front. The taste was a clean with a distinctly soapy mouthfeel too it with the trademark wheaty aftertaste. I haven’t had enough wheat beers to say if was any good but it was fitting with the rather eclectic food I had been served.
It was at this sushi bar I got talking with a woman who I only managed to catch the last name of: Mrs Swann. She’s a business development manager working to get companies interested in investing in minority businesses and since I happen to know a little bit about the venture capital market (thankyou start-up future) we hit it off quite well. It was a nice way to end what had started off as a rather awkward night, sitting beside someone for 30 minutes without saying a word to them.
Tomorrow is the first day when I don’t have anything pressing I need to do in the morning, and it feels great. I’ll probably head down to south beach as that’s apparently where everything happens around this place but if I spend a whole day on my ass watching Discovery channel I won’t be surprised. I haven’t not being doing something since I landed here 3 days ago so it might be nice to take a day to catch up on some things. With this blog post fast approaching 1700 words I think I’ll leave it there for tonight and indulge myself in some late night American TV 🙂