Saturday, July 31, 2010

Scrapbooking and Trip Prep

I'm makin' waffles!

Sadly I could not don the shirt that reinforced such a proclamation. No, for it was far too hot for such a shirt. In the screened off outside I poured batter, worked machines, and transferred finished products into an oven set for two hundred. Forty minutes it took from batter mixing to plating to get four waffles cooked. No sane family would ever make waffles. If I ever want them again, I will ensure to obtain two to four waffle makers. Doing them in bulk? That I could handle. The only type of person I could see doing this is the stay at home parent who gets up early, and has lunches to pack while the breakfast cooks.

Still – there's something good about mashing up half a pineapple, and chunking a bit more to make a tasty treat. Waffles are the best place to get rid of fruit closing in on its final deadline. I've heard jello is a good hiding place too, but I wouldn't know of that – I'm too impatient to wait for it to set, and the ice cube quick set method listed on the back of the box? It's never worked for me.

Today was just a day to get some final things sorted out. While Katherine stayed behind to read, and not-do-yoga, I headed to the library to finish uploading my pictures to facebook so as people I've not talked to in years – and two people whom I'm not sure who they are, but have been on my friends list since two thousand and seven (they mystery of whom they are – same university, and they're friends with each other – was too great to cast aside.) - can see me travelling around the world. They can also see close to one hundred pictures from wrestling now.

The pain of getting them up yesterday was gone. As soon as I saw the small out of the way link for the Java photo unloader I was golden. The new one? No good. You just select photos and upload. Heaven help you if you have any in portrait, you'll need to rotate them all by hand – the old one lets you rotate the thumbnails quickly all at once.

But never mind this.

During the uploading process I had no more Scotty P to read, however I did manage to upload more blogs, get the photos added to those, an write a new entry while waiting. Closer and closer I come to completing the back log of entries that has haunted me since I stepped away from Port Charlotte. Luckily, now that I'm back the days have become far less interesting, consumed with television, and books, and eating. So much eating. Meals are not the annoyances that get in the way of the things I'd rather do. No, meals are the thing that I'd rather do – the things that let us know time is passing. I know, I'm disgusted too.

Still – it could be worse, we could be going to fast food places, rather than just making sandwiches, and what not.

After the library I headed back, and we had to take a look at our plan to make our way across America. We are a week behind, even though we cut the week off in Boston. Florida has taken longer, and we've added a day here (D.C.), while removing a day there (A.C.)

Now that we know how we travel, we can make a better guess of how long it will take us to get from point A to point B. For the most part, the next two weeks on the road have been mapped out. They'll take us through Louisiana, through to Texas, out into the middle of nowhere to find aliens at Roswell, continuing on until we hit Vegas. There are other stops – of course – but that's the general path we'll be taking. Fourteen hour days of driving, as originally planned, have been split up. Surely we'll find something of interest along the way. And if not – well then, we'll make up a day here and there.

Both of us are itching to leave the comfort of Port Charlotte, but at the same time have become quite used to it. A coin toss, so to speak, will determine when we leave. Vegas – we're looking to go there on a weekend, and see a Penn and Teller show. Tomorrow we'll head to the library and check out if we can grab tickets for the show, and also a place to stay. If going a weekend following saves money, then the die is cast and we spend one more terrible (read: relaxing) week here (I'll try to think of some things to do to get us out of this town) otherwise, we have just one final day...

It's hard to say how it will turn out, but here's hoping. Once Vegas is planned, everything else will slowly start to fall into place. Pretty soon after that will be the long, oh so very long, crawl up the California coast. And then? Then we're almost home. It will be August soon – who saw that coming?

It seems like, even though it was in the title, I didn't talk about scrapbooking. That was done too.

Back in Port Charlotte

The note left on the windscreen worked. Garbage was on the street, and the car had been moved. All was well in the world once more.

Waking up early I started to – well I started to blog. There's no way around it. There had been a number of days to do, and the wrestling events required their own entries. Each night at Universal I was far too tired to do anything but sleep afterwards. And now it was all catching up to me. The lack of a fully functional D key still held me back. It still does. I can only guess how many times the word “an” exists where it should read “and.” Spell checker and my eyes help me catch a lot, but they're probably but a drop in the bucket. There's no way spell checker can help with the an/and problem.

When I'd typed up three entries I figured that would be good enough. To the library. But first to Books-a-Million where we were told a copy of Scott Pilgrim 6 would be kept waiting for us. I had lessened my excitement as we'd been foiled in this quest many times before – but now? Now? They had it! With glee I paid, and then off to use the public computers at thelibrary.

Katherine emailed her family while I fought to get the blog updated. I then noticed that I could toss Facebook images up once more. I had lost the ability to do that on my laptop back in Australia, or New Zealand, but here on these computers I could work some magic. Their new Flash Uploader? Terrible on these comps, and in two hours (max limit here) I barely got four hundred images up. OK – most people don't have a thousand pictures to toss onto facebook, but some of us do, alright?

During that time I was able to read Scott Pilgrim, though. And let me say volume six? It's the first really well written one. He has clearly matured as a writer over the past six years. The only problem – he retcons, and changes character motivation. As there was a four month gap in time, I can understand things would have changed – but my favourite character Kim was written out. She went from being a main character into showing up on maybe five or so pages. The author also manages to ret con the moment where Scott works to fight hard to win her love, changing it to a false memory implant.

I dig the Final Fantasy VII shout out here, but please – if you're an author and your realize that you scripted yourself into a corner, write your way out. Deus Ex Machina works well when it's a joke, as in the previous volume, but here? Having Kim tell Scott that they were never that great, and having her say they can never be together – after five volumes of Kim being silently in love with him, well that's just crap. Not to mention it meant dropping the angle where Ramona was so obsessed with Kim as well. Ugh, but that ret con – where Scott's battle was a false memory... I can't let that go. Not because I don't like the idea of it being a false memory – but because other characters in the “present” talk about the battle, which means it must have happened, and couldn't just be a fake memory of Scotts.

I've not been so disappointed in an ending since Strangers in Paradise, where they completely changed how it would finish (the first pages showed the end – but then September 11th happened, the author got sad, and decided to make a happy ending, which – again – would have been fine, if he rewrote a new beginning too. Ai ya.)

The things that upset me most, are those that had so much potential to be great. I look forward to the movie as it was all written as one. It's easy to forgive someone for changing their thoughts during a six year span. Things happen. And as I said, volume six? Quite well written. So there's that. Scott Pilgrim. Done.

After the library – and many more books bought at the book sale. Ai ya – what am I going to do? One was a sweet hard cover collected Lord of the Rings for only a buck fifty though – so that's good, yeah?

Well, after that excitement we headed off to Wal-Mart to buy some more food, then retired back to our home to eat said food, and finish watching season three of the Venture brother. After that? Off to sleep.

A Final Day at Universal Studios Florida

Universal Studios Florida, where you can ride the movies. What fun!

It's been a good three days, and here we are at the end of our days here. Day four. Islands of Adventure calls once more, and we take our second day there. For anyone planning on checking out Universal, four days really is required. You could try to rush through it in two, one for each park, and that's more than doable if you have the X-Press (skip the lines) pass, but otherwise, take four – relax, enjoy it. With the hours lost each day to the wrestling, we couldn't have done it in any less time. Also – the price of a one day ticket is something silly like 107.00 now, due to Harry Potter. A four day pass? That's only 135.00 – it just makes sense.

Speaking of Harry Potter – as we walked in, there were guards yelling that those wishing to see the Wizarding World would need to walk around through Jurassic Park. This was only a little confusing as the main entrance, where you walk into town passing the train, gaining the unbelievable view of the town, as you look down main street, with the castle over head, is through Seuss Landing.

Was this to try and control the flow of people? Or had the train exploded causing that section to be blocked off? Maybe a child projectile vomited everywhere? Who could say. All I knew is that meant everyone would be wandering the park away from Seuss Landing, allowing us a chance to get in there and ride the rides without having to wait in long lines.

Now, I knew the area would be somewhat empty, but I didn't expect the ghost town that I came across. There were no lines. None – you just walked up, and got right on. Which was great, because these rides? They're interesting, but I would not have found them as lovely if I stood for half an hour to gain the experience.

The Cat in the Hat is the only ride you need to do here. Strapping yourself into the cart, you are taken through a mixed up wonderland telling the entire tale from the much beloved book. The entire text comes to life, with the recreated home being intruded upon by The Cat, and his two Things. The poor goldfish is as tormented as others, and the children narrate the tale.

The cutesy nature, and constant rhyming may create the “It's a Small World” effect for some – a strong desire to destroy everything in sight – but for most, this is as close to a book come alive as you'll ever find.

By the end of the ride, I found myself questioning who was really at fault – as a child, you blame the cat, perhaps – then as you grow, you blame the children for allowing him in and not listening to the fish, but then you reach a stage where it becomes obvious that this large, in charge, cat with blue haired alien beasts busted his way into the home. There was nothing the children could have done to stop him. Then one needs to ask themselves what type of parent leaves children unattended for extended periods of time? If this cat – who seemed to enjoy cleaning up after breaking things – could get in, what other sort of people could make their way into the house, gaining access to the youngsters? Clearly this is a cautionary tale for adults more than anything.

This is why I can't enjoy any more. University, you ruined me.

Next up in Seuss land was One Fish, Two Fish, Red Fish, Blue Fish. You jumped into either a red, blue, single, or double fish. Then the rhyme was played over the speakers telling you to go up or down depending on the fish you were in. If you did as you were told, huzzah – you stayed dry. Should you have gone against the rhyme, you would be squirted with water. Avoiding is easy – getting wet? That takes real work. I disobeyed as best I could, only managing a small sprinkle. The jets always seemed to turn off just before I was to hit them.

If there is a second ride in Seuss land that you must take it is the Trolley. The Seuss Trolley is a train that makes its way over head through the entire Seuss land. The line, were you to wait in it – as I said, we just walked right on – tells the story of the Sneeches. On board, you wind through the fantastical town and have various sights pointed out to you. Each building here has significance, and there are all sorts of hidden references to other texts that you would have most likely missed, lest to take this ride. It also pointed out Sneech Beach, where they lounged in the water fishing.

Once more, told entirely in rhyme, this narrated tour of Seuss Landing is well worth the experience. And while the signs may tell you no photography, don't worry – if those two crazy moms in front of you keep snapping away at their darlingest dearest, you'll probably be fine too.

Off the train we headed back to one of the sights we'd seen from above – If I Ran the Zoo.

We grabbed some Moose Juice and Goose Juice on route. These Oosey Juices? Purple slushie.

In “The Zoo” you have to crawl through holes, and make your way behind little mazes, fulfilling certain requirements like pumping a lever, turning on a faucet, or tickling toes to make monsters pop up for your amusement. There is also a small children's water park hidden back here.

More of a play area than a ride, there are no lines – you just need to wander in and experience more of the wondrous world of Dr. Seuss.

From Seuss we explored the Lost Continent, which was more or less just a temple you walked through, watching pyro effects, and laughing at a guide's jokes. There was also a fountain here with a camera in its mouth, so it could talk to you if you threw a coin in. Finally there was a stunt show – but that was forty five minutes away. We would check out Harry Potter's world before coming back for that.

We headed towards Potter Land, determined to see why we couldn't enter from this direction. When we got to the gate, the entire opening had been boarded up. No one was going in or out. Had something terrible happened during the last two days? Walking around, we made our way into Jurassic Park to go through the other entrance. Here the land was open, and we started to make our way inside.

“What are you doing?” a guard asked.
“Isn't this the way to Potter Land?”
“Yeah – but you gotta line up for it!”

Line up for it? Really? You have to line up to enter an area, and then line up again to ride a ride? You have got to be kidding! There was no line on Sunday. People who line up have to enter through this gate, which is more of a back door, than down the awe inspiring main strip?

There was anger and rage bubbling to the surface. I wanted to see it again, but I wasn't going to wait in line. As I made my way to the Jurassic Park river ride, once more, I noticed the line snaked back the entire distance. It must have been a three hour wait just to get in! No wonder there were no lines for anything – everyone really was in this terrible terrible monstrosity.

Instead of an hour, we waited only twenty minutes to board the river cruise, and once more we made our way through Jurassic Park, still awed by the great drop at the end. I can't explain how much I loved this ride. Had I experienced it in my youth, I think I don't think I could have loved it any more than I do now. Timeless joy.

We rushed back to the Lost Continent and grabbed seats for the Sindbad stunt show... it wasn't s great, and we'll leave it at that. Where most of the shows are well worth going to in these parks, this one? It can be skipped free of regrets.

With Harry Potter cut off, we walked back around the park to the main gate. There funnel cake was to be found. The biggest, most gigantic, ice cream, whipped cream, strawberry, sugar, chocolate sauced funnel cake I'd ever seen. All for the low low price of six fifty. Most parks had raised the prices on these to near double, but here was a delicious treat at a price I could get behind. Shared, it was filling. For one to eat the whole thing? That would be a challenge. And as much as I loved it, it wasn't me who could be seen licking the plate clean at the end.

From the tasty treat we entered, once more, in Marvel Superhero Island. We skipped the Hulk coaster first time through. We would not skip it again. For the first time today we found ourselves in a real line. Forty minutes we waited. At the thirty five minute mark we had to choose if we'd carry on, or wait in the first row line. We'd come this far – we might as well wait for the front row. It's one thing to ride along, it's another to have a perfect view of everything coming up, watching the hill in front of you give way to twists and turns, and spins.

Taking four people per row, waiting for the front only left us two coasters back from where we would have been. Those extra two minutes were well worth it, for the view as we plunged into a tunnel of mist, before rolling up an over the entire park. Roller coasters – what fun, and delight they can be! Now if only I could get that repeating “I am Bruce Banner, blah blah blah” video out of my head that they had set to repeat in the line. Dr. Doom's Leopold, it was not.

Time had passed by this point. We looked around shops, we wandered through areas, and we ate a pizza lunch down in Toon Lagoon. We also climbed up and explored the Olive – Popeye's ship, with three levels of interactive play. The best part were the canons on the side, which could be fired at the people riding a raft ride down below. They would look up, wondering why they were wet all of a sudden, only to see us shooting down at them. There was also one boy who seemed far too old to be so excited, screaming like a pirate, giving us all orders. It would have been weird were it not so funny. It's good to see teenagers who have not fallen into the, “must act cool all the time,” phase. Although, unlike many of the others his age, he didn't have a bikini-clad girl hanging off of him. There may be some correlation there. Still – fun's fun.

By the time we were back in Jurassic Park, the line for Harry Potter seemed shorter – actually the farther we walked, we realized that it no longer existed at all. In the area we walked – suckers, waiting hours. There's the secret, if there's a line, enjoy the rest of the park, come back later.

The problem with limiting the people inside is that you will make them feel like if they leave they'll never get back in, which will prevent them from leaving, which will prevent others from entering, which will create the line that makes people think they'll never get back in – open it up and all's well. In an area where you need to line up to enter restaurants and shops, why not just let people walk around as they will?

The main entrance, with the fantastic view was also accessible now that the line was gone.

First things first, we made our way to the Hippogriff ride. It was the only one we skipped before, as it was childish, but I wanted to see the line. The lines here are so fantastic, they can be better than the rides at times. This line took us past Hagred's cottage, and the care of magical creatures class. There was also a baby Hippogriff that needed to be bowed to in order to gain its respect.

The lines in this area were still long, and we were looking at a forty five minute wait for a coaster that I didn't really care to ride all that much. Still, when the sky got grey thirty minutes in, I didn't want to lose the opportunity. By thirty five minutes there was rain and lightening. It was still a ways off though. I wondered how long it would be until the ride was shut down. Forty minutes, and the lightening was close – as shocked as I was they were still operating it, I wanted to get on. Finally we sat on board, and screamed and hollered (the only on our ride to do so) as it slowly banked corners, and returned to the station. The train following our was the last to leave the station. The ride was shut down. Had we taken a minute or two more to get in line we would have missed out on the opportunity.

With the day stretching on, aware that we had to return to Port Charlotte this night, we started to finish up. Still, we could not leave until we had ridden the Harry Potter ride once more. The line up was said to be seventy five minutes, ninety if you needed lockers. I quickly left the line, went around to the store, and accessed the lockers from another side, skipping that whole line. Now we just had seventy five minutes. Entering the single riders line we cut that down to twenty. Twenty is a good amount of time to wait. When you can't see the rider beside you the singles line is a perfect option.

I was with a family that included a young girl who screamed and shrieked with every dementor an spider. It was a great experience to hear how the ride was meant to be experienced. I also found myself looking at how the ride worked (the simulator dome screen moves with your cart during those sections.) Also, parts that were broken the first time – the Willow, and the Hermione videos – were up and running.

It was far better the second time as you could look around, and fully experience it, rather than just being amazed by the fact that it exists.

With that checked off we started to leave – but couldn't. Not before going to Olivander's wand shop. This required a fifty minute wait to get in. Inside Olivander choose two people to test the wands and see if they were right. Ladders were moved, bells were rung, an lights shone from above. It was a cute little piece of magic that brought the world to life – next up was the wand shop proper, full of people willing to pay thirty dollars for their own wand. The best part of them? The authentic Olivander's box they come in.

Here you could also pay one hundred dollars to buy your child robes. It's shocking how many wee ones I saw walking around in them. Cosplay is alive and well, and fully funded, here.

Out of one shop, and into another. Having learned that Chocolate Frogs do come with trading cards, Katherine had to have one. With her new prize secured she was ready to go – but could we really leave without eating a meal at the Hog's Head, or Three Broomsticks? No – we could not. Just to see inside the two establishments, and explore their detailed interior makes it all worth while.

Then it was time to go. The hours were passing by, but as we passed the Caro-Seuss-el we knew we had to ride it, experiencing every attraction in that zone.

NOW we were good to leave.

As I passed in and out of sleep, Katherine made the two and a half hour drive home. Finally pulling up, there was a mysterious car in our driveway. No one had told us to expect this. But this time we parked lower down the drive way, and wrote a note reading, “We're still here – can you please pull out around us, on the grass. Also – as your car is blocking the garbage, can you take that down to the road for us as well? If you need us to move the car, bang and ring on the door. Thanks.”

Hopefully this would allow me to sleep in a little later tomorrow.

TNA - Total Nonstop Action Wrestling - Day Two

TNA Xplosion Wresling. The lights dim, the crowd momentarily quiets, and to a burst of fire works two women make their way from the back stage area down towards the ring. The night of wrestling is about to begin.

With the women's tag team belt on the line, this might be a match worth watching. It's possible that there will be some actual skill here. The second the girls come into view though, it is obvious that this will be nothing more than a painfully boring women's wrestling match.

In a skirt shorter than her knickers the first girl takes to the ring, making sure to bend long and low. Her partner was dressed as if out of Greek myth as retold by an Australian production company. They spent far too long jumping around and hugging in the middle of the ring to have any skill whatsoever. They were eye candy and nothing more.

Running to the ring was Hamade, as unattractive as she was the night before, and her partner ranging somewhere between her an the two in the ring. Perhaps it would be a good match after all. It's unfortunate that you can normally determine ability as directly related to the unattractiveness of a female wrester, but with the exception of WWE's Trish Stratus, this rarely fails.

It may not have been good, but at least it was fast. Hamade made short work of the two girls dancing around the ring, allowing for the belts to change hands. A temper tantrum was thrown by the losers, leading into the commercial break.

During the match the women's champion walked the aisle, watching the match, talking to the camera – heard at home, but not to us. Once more I thought of just how much wrestlers were the modern day super heroes. They walk up, strike a pose, fight for justice, and to decide right and wrong, strike another pose, and go on their way.

In real life, problems are not solved with a simple fight – and even if they were, walking towards a fight in progress, posing in your dotted bra, and ripped jeans, talking smack before walking away would lead to no resolution. In a comic book, however, that's pretty much par for the course.

Sure comics have been made with wrestlers. There's a terrible one right now where John Cena has gone to fight monsters in hell. It's best to not think about it – but there's no need to really take it any further than it already is. Leave the fights as they area between the face and the heel – just turn the ring into a city or something.

The next match was more proof that TNA was “total nonstop action.” Few matches in TNA are just regular fights. That's what I'm learning. They all need to be title shots, or have special rules. The next one? An X-Treme X fight. It's pretty much a ladder match, without the ladders. A criss crossing tight rope is suspended over the stage, with an X hanging from the middle. The wrestler who climbs over and gets the X first wins.

Motor City Machine Guns once more defeated Beer Money. There were a few high wire stunts, but it was slow, like most tag-team matches are. The only real bit of entertainment was when Beer Money fought each other over who would climb up to get the X, each trying to claim he was drunker than the other. I'm not saying there was a lot of entertainment from that spot, but a bit.

Then Hogan walked out to the ring, washing away any painful memories of the first two matches. When Hogan talks, you listen. How can you not be thrilled as he rotates his wrist, cupping his ear with his hand, to all four corners? Hulkamania is a truly tough thing to kill.

He started explaining once more how it was time for the old guard to step aside, and make room for the new wrestlers. This seems to be a theme they're pushing in TNA, and in a world where so many of the guys wrestling today are the same as whom I grew up with, this seems very important. But then Kevin Nash (AKA Big Daddy Cool Diesel) took to the ring and started shouting. He looks like a member of Metallica, and is known in the industry to be a jerk. I pictured his cries of how he deserves to be in the spot light as being more his own words than those of his character.

Hulk claimed that their time had passed, “bruther,” but then Nash started a fight – and Hogan took to the punching. It's one thing to see him talk, but another to see him in action. Once more I was a wee child, watching WWF Superstars on Saturday morning.

Things were going well too, until Nash got the upper hand. Double J took to the stage to even the odds, but out of nowhere Sting (in Red face paint, rather than the white and black Crow get up that made me love him so during the glory years of WCW) jumped him with the bat, which was then passed to Nash who used it on Hogan. Things were looking rough for the good guys, all until – well until Sting and Nash decided they'd done enough damage and walked away.

As he was helped out of the ring, Hogan's tattoo was displayed. I took pictures of it, but still can't make it out. “I am what I am”? The word What doesn't look right though. I spent a few moments trying to zoom in and make it out. I failed.

Next up was Orlando Jones whose bit was that he was a homosexual. He shared many of the mannerisms of Lafayette from True Blood, and for this was the Face of the match for me. His opponent was a raging straight character. It must be really hard to pull off the role of “uber straight” in an entertainment field where you spend most of your time oiled up rolling around, entwined with other half naked men.

Every time Orlando would suck his finger, or lolly pop the heel would get enraged, and make to fight him. This meant holding him from behind and gyrating. The wrestlers must know that their role is neigh impossible to pull off, still they will do what they do.

The following match was another piece of history for me. Ric Flair was fighting in a street fight. Flair is far too old to still be in the ring. He was old when I was first watching. Today is is not in bad shape, but skin hangs off him, and his arms are shadows of what they were. Still – his character has power, and his chops are legendary.

His chops quickly failed, and he was manhandled by his opponent. It was sad to watch at one point. With Earl Heffner reffing, one could be excused for questioning why the urban youth was beating up the two geriatrics, and why people were enjoying it. It was almost disturbing. Especially when Flair was busted open, blood everywhere, stripped to his underwear – his suit ripped off him.

I could have gone my whole life without ever seeing Ric Flair's butt – but that was not to be my fate.

Close up pictures I took indicated where he had taped the razer to his finger before the fight. With his face covered in blood he was the perfect living embodiment of why wrestlers need to let the new generation take over. His time is done, fiction or no fiction, there is no power to him any more. Just saggy saggy chest flaps, blowing with the lightest breeze.

All heroes eventually pass.

In the following match Rob Van Damme took revenge on Raven for what happened last week (yesterday) on the show. There was a terrible five minute speech about how Raven should have been Dreamer's kids father, and blah blah blah – then the fight. When it ended all the old ECW guys got together in the ring, beer was brought out, and it was like 1994 all over again.

The Dudley brothers were together, Hogan was there, Foley was in the ring. RVD was pounding back brew after brew, and a couple of guys I'd never heard of were busy finishing the case while spitting most of it all over the fans in the front row. Some were loving it. One little boy was just confused and angry.

All the while Enter Sandman was being played. It was as if time had stopped for me in High School. This was the 1994 party I had always wanted. Beers, well known characters, and the iconic music of the time. Then I remembered that sixteen years had passed, and that the TNA program were actually doing this now. I was more than slightly confused.

But not as confused as when the party ended, ten minutes later, an the show wasn't over. There were still two matches to go. Two terrible terrible matches.

Hamade came back out – joy – to fight a Goth Lolli girl who could do the splits and kiss her toes. She screeched and screamed more than any wrestler girl I'd before heard. It was pure pain. But it was soon over. Hamade taking the win.

The final match? The British Invasion against Ink Inc. More tag team. It wasn't terrible, but it wasn't good. No – you know what, at that point I wanted to leave, so it must have been terrible. Half the fans had already cleared out.

The British Invasion took the win when their manager distracted one of Ink Inc's guys with a dog tag. The British fans were happy. Half the audience were Brits. They were the ones who really got into the fights. I wondered if they were here simply because it was going on, and they really wanted to see the Harry Potter land, or if they'd come all this way to watch TNA wrestling. The way the hollered, and screamed, it could have gone either way really.

Friday, July 30, 2010

Another Day at Universal Studios, Orlando

Day three in Orlando. The day started with a fantastic IHOP breakfast, where the minion taters were far better than they’d ever been in Port Charlotte, or even DC. The pancakes were numbered three instead of two, and it was just like a heavenly heart attack in my mouth. If walking around in the sun, ten miles at least, a day was going to help me get in shape – these breakfasts were sure to keep things in a nice orderly balance.

Rather than heading to the Islands of Adventure, as was the initial plan, we headed back for Universal Studios. The reason? There was a second day of free wrestling. Katherine didn’t love it, so to speak, but she didn’t hate it. And as for me? I did enjoy it. It was a kick back to a simple time when entertainment was just mindless fun. I may not be able to sit through hours of televised wrestling these days, but it’s sure fun to see when you can scream and shout, and are surrounded by blood thirsty viewers waiting for people to beat the snot out of one another.

While we had ridden all the rides yesterday, there were a number of shows at Universal Studios that we had not seen. They would have taken too much time. This is why we had budgeted two days at each park. Today would be the show day.

We started off by waiting in the shade of the New York streets alleys, sitting on boxes. For a moment we could have been confused as players in the show. I wish I hade period clothing to wear.

Out of the blistering heat – literally blistering for those pale and foolish enough to forget their sunscreen (I’m looking at you, Katherine) – we waited for the Blues Brothers to drive down the street in their stolen police car, with giant speaker system strapped to the roof. There’s something about that music that has a timeless quality. Now sure there has only been about fifty years, so it’s not as timeless as some of the classical stuff that I can’t stand, but it has something to it. Something that even Nirvana may not stand the test of time to. It’s – pleasing to listen to. What else would you expect from those on a mission from God?

I wish I’d seen the movie. The second one was filmed only a few miles from my house – and yet, I’d never managed to check them out. It’s just one of the many things I need to watch when I finally get back to the quote unquote real world.

When the brothers took back to the streets, we headed to Beetlejuice’s graveyard review. Here the songs had been updated from when I last watched the performance. I’m not going to lie, I thought they may have just kept it terribly out of day. But no, they stepped up their game, and watching the black and white striped creature in action, I realized just how underused a character he is.

Sure he had his one movie (which once terrified me, with the dancing corpses in wedding dresses) and a children’s cartoon – but there is so much more potential for this character. The review showed the crude sexual-innuendo filled “BJ” that was lost to the Sunday morning special. Now would be a perfect time for a relaunch. Though created decades past, he is as relevant today as he was then. If not more so.

Wandering back through the San Francisco area, I realized that so many people here would never see San Fran. Then it hit me how many of the recreations I’d walked through in real life. And once more it hit me just how great it is to travel. And then I felt like a jerk. I’ve been removed from large travel, situated in one country making small jogs each day. Still – there is so much to be said for that, it’s just as interesting as world travel. In fact, spending just one day in a city, and bugging out really forces you to make the most of it, rather than hanging out slowly going mad. There are things lost in this as well.

I remembered that travel within one country is just as amazing as travel through many. Although this will not stop me from brining up references to other places that I know Katherine has not seen, ending the line with, “ahh, you really must go.”

Be thankful, folks back home, me doing this now is getting it out of my system so that none other than Kath need deal with this travel jerk. I’ll try hard – really hard – to never start a sentence with “When I was in…” or “Have you been to…” And on the plus side, so you don’t feel bad for her, Katherine is developing her own stock pile of “When I was…”

Next up, the Disaster ride was fixed. Yesterday it had been a downed piece of electronics, but now? Now it was ready to go. And I was ready to ride the movie. Years ago there had been a part of this which showed how sound effects were used. This was Murder She Wrote themed. The shout out to Murder She Wrote is no longer a staple in this park, although you can still find it hidden in the Terminator show.

Video clips were filmed by people chosen from the crowd, and when we rode along in our subway car, watching things explode all around us, we watched a video that combined all those clips to form a complete video, featuring The Rock, produced by he who will live on in infamy as needing more cow bell. Christopher Walkin, no matter what you do, that is how you will be recalled. A perfect epitaph.

With time running short, and TNA wrestling tickets to pick up, we had to skip the live Fear Factor performance. This was more than a little upsetting, as I wanted to see people eat bugs, or eat them myself. But no – we were called back to the terrifying red roller coaster, the Rip Ride Rockit. We grabbed TNA tickets, and then got in line. While it claimed to be half an hour, it was really only a fifteen minute wait. On board, all belongings would be thrown from pockets. This is why we stashed our gear in the lockers provided.

All except one small item, forgotten in my shirt pocket. The little two dollar clock I picked up in Cambodia, replacing my broken GPS unit as my time piece. This clock was later busted in Japan, and fixed with Duct Tape, brought back to life. But now, as I rocketed upside down, to the lyrics of his holiness, Mr. K. West sampling the best parts of Better Faster Stronger, the time piece was flung from my breast pocket. After the ride you can buy a video of the experience. You can also watch the moment. There it was, replayed over and over, the watch leaving my pocket, and me feeling for it, mourning the loss.

Still – it needed a proper send off, and now for the moment I am free from my obsession with time. Free – free – Katherine what time is it? Katherine what time is it? Katherine what time is it?! Well – I’m getting free. All addictions are hard to kick.

With Wrestling tickets we headed back through the park, riding the E.T. ride again, as there was no line. Mostly I just wanted a picture of his speak and spell telephone, because the ride? It was no better a day later. Good Bye KatherineMikeSamScottyLauraJennifer.

Then to the Hollywood Make Up show where a very creepy host showed trick knives, and how fake blood can be used. During the show they picked a female volunteer. They always do. It’s because the women are far more terrified, and worried about what will happen. In this case they choose a Japanese woman who spoke hardly any English.

Was it slightly racist that the performers switched their Ls and Rs when talking with her? Sure – but we established that that was already a part of these parks during the Harry Potter experience. But – was it hilarious when this woman was so freaked out by the fake arms, and the fake blood, and the fake knife cutting her arm that she tried to run off stage time and time again? Yes. Yes it was.

“Best volunteer ever.” And I believe that they meant it. Rare to get someone so in character for a thing like this. You have to imagine most people that come to a show like this would expect to see odd sights.

And the host? With lines like, “I’m not allowed to talk to children any more,” and, “This isn’t the Magic Kingdom – I don’t need to be nice to you!” he was fantastic, as was his straight-woman.

Last up? The Animal Show. I suggested this as a joke, more than anything. It would fill time, and be better than nothing. When the first dog came on stage, and Katherine’s eyes lit up – ohh! So cute! – I realized that this was probably the thing she would enjoy after all.

The dogs from MiB and Marley and Me took to the stage performing tricks. It struck me that while this was cute and fun, were these elephants it would be sad. Strange how that distinction is made. There were also birds, and orangutans, and a wee little piggy. I was hit after suggesting we eat ribs that night. Fair enough.

As I watched the animals, it struck me that when my parents took me to see this show years ago, and I watched those animals… well, they were all probably dead by now. That was not the least bit depressing. Especially when I realized one of them was Beethoven. Poor dead Beethoven.

And then off to TNA Wrestling! YAY!

TNA - Total Nonstop Action Wrestling - Day One

Sure we waited in line for an hour before we were allowed into the TNA Impact Zone, but once inside I didn't really care all that much. I'd only ever been to a live wrestling match once before at a house show. I'd never seen a live televised event before. I was worried that I wouldn't know any of the new wrestlers, as I'd not watched in over a decade, but I need not have worried all that much – the more things change...

Hulk Hogan and Mick Foley took to the stage, explaining how the times were changing, and how the torch needed to be past. Hogan was a hero of the 80s, Foley a hero of the 90s. They were going to usher in the new era of wrestling for a new decade (never mind that the decade after the 90s was already over too.)

Still – to see these two greats in person was something that reverted me back to a small child. I may have been on my feet screaming a wee bit.

Next up was a women's match. Yawn. If there's anything worse that wrestling, it's women wrestling. It looks far faker, and far more terrible then the men's. Still – it gave me time to figure out how the cameras were set up, and let me understand that while things may look random at home, one character was almost always facing the main camera. The ref was always in a similar position, and the less attractive was also with her back to the camera. The use of stage was something I'd never really thought about when it came to wrestling, and yet here it was – so obvious.

When that ended, without me caring to remember names or outcomes, Ric Flair took to the mat – Ric 'Woooo!' Flair! Once more, the child inside of me could hardly believe it. I got a picture of him Wooo-ing and that was a childhood dream come true. The Impact Zone was small, holding perhaps eight hundred people. Every picture was a good up close picture.

Next was a steel cage match between Beer Money and the Motor City machine guns. I didn't know either of these guys, but a cage match is a cage match. One of the guys got 'busted open' (I assume he used a razer on his forehead) getting blood all over the mat. The fans were wild and crazy. If you want to see America for its stereotyped best, go to wrestling. This is where the mullets take centre stage.

Next up, stepped The Freak! “Look at his body,” Katherine shouted. I am emasculated. You didn't head me saying anything when the women were doing their thing. “So sculpted!” I felt like Brad, when Rocky was first introduced into the world. Dammit Janet!

This match did not last long. And soon he was gone.

Then Mr. Anderson took to the stage. He is a new superstar – flagship of the federation from what I could gather. People with his signs were put ringside, pulled from the line. He was a mouth that could entertain, and wrestle. But he was just there and gone. Hardly taking up any time at all.

The final match was between Tommy Dreamer an Abyss (a Mankind knock off.) This ended with Tommy being screwed over by Raven (who does not look nearly as good as a wrestler these days, as he did when he was in WCW on the N64 all those years ago.) Foley came out, once more, to set things right – and that was that. Three hours of wrestling at an end.

It struck me that I kind of liked wrestling. But then I like everything live, especially when it gives me a chance to shout. With voice gone, we walked under the Universal gates, and the full moon, getting in our car for the ride back home.

Ride the New Movies at Universal Florida

After a Grand Slam breakfast we were off to Universal Studios, Florida to ride the movies.

I had grand memories of this place from when I was younger. There was the Back to the Future ride, the Ghostbusters show, and the King Kong ride. These were the things that stood out, that lasted on as memories. These were the rides and shows that, of course, are now gone. And when you think about the fact that there was a new King Kong movie, and that Ghostbusters is pushing for a new one too, it seems all a wee bit odd. The Back to the Future series isn't really doing much, but it's so loved that – well, it's alright. Surely they were removed to make way for new wonderful experiences that will be just as loved. Surely.

Passing the rotating orb, we turned left, and into the second park. Islands of Adventure would have to wait until tomorrow to be re-explored. Remembering where all the longest lines were we headed straight for the E.T. Ride. Getting there just as the gates had opened we hoped to bust straight to the front. There was no one else in line! Of course, this was because the ride was broken.

“Sorry fellas, E.T. has gone on a little trip, and we're hoping he's back soon.”

I hate the company line. I do.

“So, is this an all day broken thing, or a come back in two hours broken thing.”

The guard looked at me, eyes narrowed, “it's an E.T. will be back when he's back thing.”

God damn. I thought that people would hate having to stay in character, but this guy was loving it far too much. Right – whatever. I had no time to waste, there were still other rides and experiences. Just because one was broken did not mean they all would be. To the Simpson's!

Walking into the Simpson's area was just like entering Harry Potter land, though a bit less extreme. First you are met with the Quic-E-Mart, where Katherine peered around to find a Bort license plate. Sadly, opportunity missed, there were no license plates. However, she did find a Quic-E-Mart employee badge made out to Bort. With this novelty in hand, we carried on to Krustyland. Walking through the clowns giant head, we got in line for the ride, which had a safety video brought to us by Cletus.

Through to the inner line, where Universal proves a master at line psychology, we walked past Hans selling popcorn, Patty and Selma operating the lost and found, and many other in world oddities. All around were posters of the other various rides, 'now broken', in Krustyland. These posters and images are what they should have been selling here. These are the unique items that would be great to bring home. But no, only plush Homers, and Barts were on sale.

The ride itself – obviously replacing the old Back to the Future ride – the simulators having gull wing doors that closed down – was actually pretty fantastic. Sure I missed chasing Biff through the future, but if it had to go, I'm glad it was replaced by the well thought out Simpson's simulator ride which had us crashing around Krustyland, with the family making fun of all the theme park cliches, like the terrible churros, and how no ride can end, lest it is beside the gift shop. Then we burst into downtown Springfield, and took a pass through outer space to see Kang and Kodos before finally settling to a stop as a couch gag entrance.

Leaving the ride, my head was spinning once more. So much was I sucked into the world, that it felt like I had been bouncing around on the intergalactic thrill ride, working to escape the killing hands of Sideshow Bob.

From there we walked past a squishy seller to the Alien Attack of Men in Black. One more we were in a themed line. This time for a world fair. However, once inside the elevator the true nature of our visit was explained, we were training to be MiB agents. As we made our way through the compound, we past intergalactic immigration, and various occupied work stations until we were placed in our mobile chairs, which would take us through the course.

With three unknown girls behind us, Katherine and I took to the front seat, and embarked on our quest. A downed ship was in the middle of the city. We had to blast aliens all the way through it, not unlike the Toy Story ride at Disney. At one point, other riders are shown to be aliens and shooting their car causing them to spin out of control.

By the end, Katherine was sitting with 29 000 points. I on the other hand was the object of her rage, “how could you possibly get 181 000?!” Apparently some of us have what it takes to be Alien Bounty Hunters and some of us do not. Sadly, as the points were averaged out, an the girls in the back did a similarly terrible job, our cars score did not qualify us to be agents, and we were flashed with the the memory eraser before being let back out into the world.

Outside the world fair was the town of Amity. Not full of ville-style horror, but another terrible creature from the deep. Jaws.

Sure, a shark hung proudly outside the ride, but there is always more than one bloodthirsty great white in the waters. And as we made our way through the line, with the same videos playing now, as they did fifteen years ago, I chuckled as we waited. In the boat, our pleasure cruise soon turned to horror as we were, gasp, attacked by the shark.

The captain of our boat now poked fun at the age of the ride, and how understood every moment would be, making it more of a comedy than a horror. Still – it retained its charm, as one of the last surviving relics from the early days.

Just down off of Fisherman's Wharf, San Francisco, was the Disaster Ride. As we approached, we were told that it too was broken.

Just across from it was the new Mummy Ride. It took some time, as we made our way through the hour plus line, just what it had replaced. King Kong. That is the ride no longer here. And that was upsetting. King Kong was a great ride, with the best line – through the New York subway system – that Universal had. Now we were in a line, the theme of which I couldn't even pick up on. It wasn't until the very end that I realized the theme of this line was simply that we were in line for a roller coaster. This may seem like a silly idea, until you got on board the coaster only to discover that it was cursed. Throughout the ride the ancient evil was trying to kill you. Ride operators were murdered in front of your eyes, while flames shot up around you.

In the greatest moment of the entire experience the ceiling turned into bubbling flames, threatening to consume, heating the entire area.

I wondered later, after the simulated terror, what type of safety protocols they must have for this ride.

And then, after the actor Brandon Fraser was killed doing an interview to end the ride, we were released. Maybe it wasn't all that terrible – but it wasn't King Kong great. There's something nice about the giant set ups that don't rely on video projector equipment. This ride? Think of it as Pirates of the Caribbean meets Space Mountain.

Outside, there was a terrifying red coaster that threatened fun and terror. But what was this t our right? A table with someone wearing a TNA (Total Nonstop Action Wrestling) T-Shirt? I had read on the map that they did live tapings here. I regretted that we missed the taping of Family Feud the day before, but now – checking the map – today and tomorrow, only, they would be taping two live episodes of TNA wrestling. I grabbed two free tickets, and was told to be back in three hours.

Katherine was less excited than I was at this turn of events, but she had given Monster Trucks a try in the past, and was pleasantly surprised. Perhaps this would turn out to be alright too.

Before we would find out, we went through the replacement of the Ghostbusters show. This was a “Twister” experience. I like Twister far more than I should, and the Helen Hunt interview was far more of a delight for me than many others, I'd imagine, but even watching the cows fly, and the signs crash, and feeling the winds blow, it just wasn't that great. Not only did this replace the Ghostbusters show, but it also meant that the Ghostbusters fireball was repainted as just another building, and that the Ecto-1 no longer made its way around these sacred streets. There is no excusing this travesty.

Ohh the Mystery Machine! Scooby-Doos car was parked on the street while he was shaking hands. I took my pictures, then peeked inside. It was as it should be, with snacks in the back, and a big shag interior. I noticed that the vehicle was unlocked. Opening the sliding door to get inside I was met with an unhappy guard, “that's not for opening.”

“Maybe it should be for locking then,” I grumbled as I walked away.

Lunch at Mel's Drive-In soon put that behind me, as did the optical illusion photo placing the Hollywood skyline in our image. Few people took advantage of this, as it was well hidden and not pointed out. Still it was neat.

Our next stop? The Terminator 2, 3D show. I loved this when I was younger, and I still appreciated it. In Cyberdyne we watched a video explaining the technology of the future (half of it, already here – as this video was created in the mid nineties.) We were also told by Sarah Connor how the world was going to end at the turn of the century. Well, that's a good ninety years off now, not so big a threat. Again, one wonders if they should have made reference to dates in something that was supposed to be timeless.

Watching Arnold take out the machines, and save the world by destroying the T-1000000 (I can just picture them – if the T one thousand is cool, the T one MILLION(!!!) must be ultra awesome.) was still fantastic. I, for one, welcome our new machine overlords.

E.T. was back online, and its line through the dark forest was the best part of it. This ride has not aged well, and is just as creepy as it ever was. His home planet, where he totally abandons you, is disturbing. Also – if his adult supervisor could come to Earth to tell you to bring E.T. home, why couldn't he just pick him up? Still – when he says goodbye to you personally there's still a big of charm. “Good-bye MichaelKatherineLisaSamErinCarter.”

The Jimmy Neutron ride was a simulator with a twist. You felt real terror when you saw something big approach. This thing hurt like a mother. It kicked, and it kicked hard. Each time something passed our way, your spine was pounded into the chair, and you winced in pain. This was a children's ride where fear was made real. A true terror amongst terrors.

Finally? Shrek 4D. It wasn't bad – but the whole line was themed as if you were going to be tortured in the torture chairs. Every other line here worked its theme well, but then you got inside, watched a movie, and left. At the end the staff said the hope you enjoyed the torture. Either they refer to the movie as torture – admitting it was terrible (it wasn't actually) or they just threw the theme to the wind. Which is upsetting, as it stands alone in that regard.

No time to worry of that though, it was five. That meant time to return to the TNA waiting area!

Exploring the Wizarding World of Harry Potter - and Then Some

So tired. So very tired. Six in the morning is far too early to be up. Thirty minutes to shower, and finish a box of Cinnamon toast crunch that has been hanging around nourishing over the past few days. Then into the car with Katherine driving and away, away, away, from Port Charlotte to the vacation capital of the world: Orlando.

Through the drive I alternate between napping, and reading Forrest Gump out loud. The two and a half hours pass swiftly. Then it's time to find a motel for the nights that we will be here. As much fun as driving back and forth each day sounds, a motel with instant sleep capabilities would be far far better.

Trusted Room Saver guide shows a few places just outside of the theme park area for twenty to thirty dollars a night. We go to the cheapest one. Even with hidden fees and all those usual tricks, a price starting at 19.95 should remain fairly cheap. Rolling down the main tourist drag with giant wizards exploding from gift shops, and more restaurants, fast food places, and mini golf courses than anyone could ever fully know what to do with, we found the motel six. It lay just beyond a giant balloon offering to buy and sell theme park tickets – cheap. I assume that if you buy a multi day pass and don't use them all, this is where you can recoup a buck or two.

Pulling into the lot, we head inside waiting for the screwing over to begin, wondering what that twenty dollar fee will turn out to be. Strangely, we are told that the three nights will be twenty two dollars and some odd cents after taxes. Where is the huge gouge? Where is the five dollar a night phone fee, or something stupid like that? There is just a room charge? We are told we can not access the room yet – but to call back around two, and then we'll be told where we can be.

Ah ha! There's the rub. We don't have the room. Sure we have a confirmation number, but something will go terribly wrong in the future. It must. This is how things work, right? Nothing comes easy for us. Why would that start happening now? Still – taking out confirmation, we figured we'd deal with that when the time came. It was fifteen minutes down the Number 4 to Universal. There we paid the terrible fourteen dollars a day for parking, and made our way to the gates.

We picked up our tickets from some machine near the gate, no lines for us who booked on the internet, saving ten dollars on all multi-day passes in the process. Then we had to choose, Universal Studios, or Islands of Adventure. The multi-park tickets, while only two fifty more a day seemed like a terrible idea – who would have the time to go to more than one of the giant parks in a day? I'll keep my cash, thank you. That is ten Whopper Jrs, or a plate of Minion Taters at the IHOP. Still – it meant we had a choice. One or the other. I thought that the new Harry Potter land was in Universal Studios. As I started to walk that way all number of signs pointed out my error, and we stopped, turned on heals, and made our way to Islands of Adventures.

It had been well over a decade since I'd last been to Universal Studios. As a souvenir I collected shot glasses from all the rides. This was before I knew what shot glasses were. Lets say it was a decade and a half ago, with that revelation. I think I just thought they were cute little cups. But never mind, back then universal Islands of Adventure was yet to be built. It came some time later, with the Marvel Adventure Islands and I always wanted to see that. Now I would get my chance. And not a moment too soon. With Disney now owning the rights to Marvel Comics one wonders how long Universal will be able to keep this section of the park.

But there was no time for Marvel, not yet. There was no time for the Seuss Landing that we rushed through, and the Lost Continent? Its time may or may not come, but its time was not now!

Then, stretching before us was the snowcapped rooftops of Hogsmead village. Walking under the gate, and into a world seen only through the imagination of children – bastardized for six, going on eight - feature films, we had stepped into The Wizarding World of Harry Potter.

A train greets you, smoke billowing from all sides. The conductor, thick English accent, like many to be found here (stepping out of world for a moment, it should be said that Universal imported a number of Brits for this park. Their name tags show their home town as London, and other English cities. This is not a gag, but rather an attempt to keep the mythology alive, and the land feeling as true as possible to the text.) Some muggles, a few even wearing t-shirts pointing them out as such, pose with him as he laughs and chuckles away, “oh, like a Young Dumbledore, that one looks,” pointing at me. I smile, he smiles back, and soon I'm into the town proper.

Walking down the frozen world of young witches and wizards I pause to look in the windows of Honeydukes, and Olivander's wand shop. Many of the establishments here are locked, closed for the 'Christmas Season' but not all. The candy store, wand shop, robe store, pub, and restaurant are all open for business, and exploration – even by those uninterested in making a purchase. Stepping through these shop doors is an experience all of its own.

There is no Coca-Cola in the world of Harry Potter, and there isn't any to be found here. There are Apple juices, pumpkin juices, and other beverages all sharing the label of an in-world farmer. There are no twizzlers, or smarties, or sour kids. Inside the candy shop, all treats are packaged, labeled, and branded for the world in which they are being sold. Pink Coconut ice can be yours, as are the ever popular every flavour beans. If you crave a chocolate frog, you can buy one here – and, of course, don't forget to collect your famous witch and wizard card from the bottom of each one. For those wandering through Honeyduke's it will become obvious that candy, in clear dishes, is far more wonderful than when boxed on a supermarket shelf. There is even a potentially racist treat – in a display four goblins hold the stylized face of an 'ancient Chinese man.' His long hair, and mustache are being tripped – sold as licorice. One wonders if the character shouldn't be holding an Opium Pipe to complete the look. Still, I remember this is set in Europe where racially offensive signs depicting Asian's isn't thought twice about, just accepted. And no one else seems to mind. A number of Chinese kids are posing lovingly beside it. After all, themes of pro-racism run so strongly through the texts of Harry Potter that it would almost be out of place for that not to be mirrored here.

The other end of the candy store is Zonko's gag shop where you can buy chattering teeth, and Up-Stairs Springs (the amount of children this will disappoint is beyond count.) There are even t-shirts advertising some of the products, and events to be found in world. You will find no shirts with Harry face on them here – such a thing would not exist in this world. You can buy a fan jersey though, as many would be wishing Potter on to victory. There are only two or three things I found in this whole area of the park that break the theme that we have really, as if we were Thursday Next, stepped into the book itself.

Looking at the t-shirts, I again question why companies think that only guys want awesome t-shirts, leaving all the girl's fitted shirts with pictures of nymphs, and coloured in pinks and baby blues. It's a shame there will never be an awesome shirt made for a girl.

When through the town one has a decision to make. What ride, what experience, will one take first? Will you try and learn to train a Hippogriff on the family friendly coaster, or ride one of the dueling dragons to find itself featured in the Tri-Wizard tournament? While both of those seem like acceptable options, no true fan would consider those until they have experienced, first, Hogwarts castle itself.

The whole time you had been walking the imaginary streets, the castle has been looming overhead, a beacon calling to you off in the scaled distance. Step by step you draw closer, leave your bags in a magical locker opening and closing with the print of one of your fingers, and then off in line you go.

And what a line, it seems that many non witches an wizards wish to see the inside of Hogwarts castle. For an hour and a half you stand in the heat – snow capped buildings or not, it is blistering outside. The snowman by the Butterbeer seller seems to be mocking you. For an hour you stand in the sun. Then you come closer and find yourself in the herbology greenhouse, mandrakes looking at you with their plantlike eyes, causing all sorts of confusion for vegetarian and vegan wizards. Next thing you know you are is the castle. And while there are still thirty minutes before you will experience what is to come, that does not matter. Not when you are now walking through the sacred halls, looking at the point chambers for the four houses, and seeing the various statues and monuments at the opening gates.

Then you step further in. The paintings come alive, with subjects jumping between one frame an the other. These pieces of classic art move around the walls, and talk to you, each other, while more simply slumber – snoring away.

You are welcomed to the castle, and have it explained to you at that you are about to see a lecture by the great Dumbledore. Turning the next corner, though, all this ends as Harry, Ron, and Hermione step out and tell you that it would be far better to ride on a flying enchanted bench with them, and explore the world. This is, undoubtedly true.

The paintings that follow tell you the best ways to remain safe on these benches, and then just before boarding the Sorting Hat gives you a few final pieces of advice. Once boarded you quickly take to flight, Hermione enchanting you, and sending you to visit Harry and Ron higher up. Flying, you meet Hagred who tells you to be on the look out for his lost dragon. Next thing you know, you are under attack – the dragon emitting hot breath at you. Escaping through the dark forest, large spiders see you as prey, spitting at you with every pass. Then the great willow begins to beat at you, but with a quick escape, you find yourself over the quiddich pitch where Malfoy tries to delay you, without success. Harry, out of nowhere – one wonders if he was even supposed to be playing in this game, if he was showing you around – grabs the Snitch and you're off again. Through the halls of the castle, chased by dementors, you make good on your escape until you have finally landed once more. Harry being heralded as champion, and Dumbledore inviting you back any time.

As you leave the castle, to collect your belongings, and shop at Filches emporium, no doubt trying to make a buck from confiscated belongings, you can't help but be amazed. Even the most jaded individual will have been thrilled, and transformed into a hyperactive child rattling off their favourite parts of the experience.

But then, there is still more. The Durmstrum boys are showing off their martial arts ability, while the French girls work with ribbons – a practical skill when one realizes that so much of wizarding is all in the wrist movements. Next up is the dragon ride, but not before downing a cup of Butterbeer. Its flavour is something of a mix of Ginger ale and Root beer, capped with a thick caramel cream head.

Slightly refreshed it is on to the dragon ride, the line taking you past the flying car, now crashed into the ground.

This ride is a fast roller coaster, which left me dizzy, and feeling old, but I was glad to have done it. And with that I stumbled out of the world of Harry Potter, hoping to visit it once more before I left this part of the world. And while it felt as if I'd done and experienced so much already that was but one of the Adventure Islands in this park. The next?

Jurassic Park.

For years I had wanted to visit the Jurassic Park ride. In California, I wanted to go and experience it, alas it was under repairs then. But now – now was my chance. Through the large gates, we walked into a jungle of wooden pathways, and rivers, and dinosaurs popping out from behind trees. The sensors that kept track of the animals were posted around the area – previously seen only in the text, not the movies. Then we were standing before the entrance to the River Adventure. This was one of the rides not yet finished in the movie, but very much a part of the novel. After waiting in line (no line seeming long after the Potter line) we boarded our craft an began a leisurely ride down the river, passing great beasts, and having them detailed for us by our in car narrator (spared no expense.)

Then – something turned for the worst. We were pulled into the raptor containment area where something had gone wrong. A boat was torn to pieces, compys fighting over scraps of uniform. And then we were pulled up, up, higher an higher through security checkpoints, now abandoned. Out of the dark a velociraptor jumped towards us, but quickly backed down as something terrible clawed through the wall. Ducking the venom of the Dilophisaur we saw just what had put the fear into the six foot dinosaurs – before us was a great t-rex. With our gaze held, travelling towards its feet, we all wondered how we were to escape. In an amazing show of misdirection, just as we worried we would hit it, the floor opened up below us, causing us to rush down down down screaming all the way, bursting into a great plume of water. Safe once more, we had survived. Cue the heroic music, and let us out.

Lunch was had in the discovery centre, modeled after that from the movie. There one could merge themselves with a dinosaur, creating freakish mangled combinations. A baby raptor was also born, and explained by one of the scientists that worked at Jurassic Park. It was at this moment that I wished the Gift Shops had far different items. Sure a shirt with a dinosaur is lovely, but imagine having a Jurassic Park employees khaki coloured shirt, with badge on it? Or one of the doctors uniforms. Back in other park, who could resist a Cyberdyne Systems security uniform? These are what they should be selling. This is what I would buy.

Jurassic Park also had a children's play area, which offered some brief exploration. And there were flying dinosaurs that could be ridden, but only with the accompaniment of a small child. Clearly adults can ride it – why restrict them?

Then, this section too was closed off to us – fully explored. Next up was Toon Lagoon. Saying the name five to forty times for enjoyments sake, led us past more water rides, themed around the lagoon. There were shops where Sunday Funnies came to life. Hagred owned a shop, and Billy, from the Family Circus, took a dotted line stroll through the area. It was also here, for some reason, that Matt Hoffman's Agro Circus was held.

At the Circus, we watched some of the best X-treme sports performers in the country. Taken from all over the world they performed vert and flatland tricks on blades, boards, bikes, and motorcycles, the latter driving around the sphere of doom. This show offered a break from walking around all day. The feet needed rest, and here rest was provided. It was also good fun to watch. Then it was out of Toon Land to experience Marvel Superhero Island.

There was a comic book store here, which sold all the weekly titles. Picking up a few, I noticed that Marvel might be on the verge of retconning its One More Day retcon. If that happens, I won't have to hate Spider-Man any more. It was the first time in years they addressed those moments. Perhaps this farce is at an end? Perhaps it was just to solidify the new status quo even further. That would be terrible.

Not wanting to think of all the pain they'd caused to the Web Slinger since the launch of the first movie, I choose to return to a simpler time when he was a brilliant cartoon, which I had watched the whole series of this year. Into he Daily Bugle we walked, and were told how a sinister syndicate was on the loose. Park 3D ride, part in seat experience, we move through New York, facing off against Doc Oc, Electro, the hardly ever seen orange female Venom from the second Venom miniseries, and others. It was a taste of what things once were, and I quickly fell into the comfort of an understood continuity where super heroes were right, and the moral ambiguity was a thing yet to come. This was a world of thought bubbles rather than psychological narrator boxes. And while I appreciate how the form evolved, finding it hard to truly step back, these mini vacations into a simpler time are always well loved.

Our final experience here? Doctor Doom's Terror Tower. The line was short, so why not. The best part? The safety videos 'created by Doom.' Fantastic cartoons that show how to best love your dictatorial leader. My favourite creation in this whole park? Leopold, “But how will this help Dr. Doom?” he asks, voice squealing, before turning into a pile of goo. How indeed. But it doesn't matter. All that really mattered was that he asked.

Then it is home. To sleep. Sleep, a good long sleep, before waking up early again tomorrow and exploring an entirely different park.

Books and Movies

Yet another day in Florida. They all just kind of blur together, but I don't really mind. Not when I can attempt to poorly play my sweet new Ukulele which can kind of sort of hold its tuning.

On this day three things of note occurred. Thing the first, it started to rain. Now this wouldn't be a problem if not for the fact that we had a tent drying out in the back yard. Another coat of sealer was required. The can says “most sealers require two applications. This one only requires one! This one is a liar. Still, it was really inexpensive, and thus using the whole can was not a problem. It also meant we could, without feelings of guilt, toss the can away.

The rain did work to prove that the tent was mostly secure. Now all we'll need is another opportunity to camp out, and this will all have been for a good purpose. But the heat – it's not getting any colder as we near August. I know, that surprised me too. You'd think the closer to August, and the farther south you go, the colder it would become. Apparently that's only if you go really far south. This above the equator stuff just doesn't cut it. Ironically, here the further south you go the hotter it becomes. Figures.

The tent was broken down quickly and laid over some chairs in an attempt to let it dry out a little, and not remain such a god awful eye sore, while we were out in Orlando over the next four days.

When the tent was down, of course, the rain stopped. That's how these things work.

Next up, over to Wal-Mart to return the defective UNO. We walked in with the receipt, the mismatched deck, then grabbed a good deck and got them switched. It seems to me as if we could have just grabbed a good deck, made a bad deck, and walked away with a free deck of cards, showing the receipt. It reminds me of the days when people would go to Chapters, grab a big book from the back of the store and “return it.” Free money.

In the mall we swung by the movie theatre. I'd heard from far too many sources that Inception was a great movie, and that it needed to be seen. Who was I to argue with such a waterfall of voices? But the next showing wasn't for hours yet. We would return. Probably. Well, maybe. It depends on how lazy we would become.

On the way out of the mall Old Navy may have been hit up – it seems that were one to have a teacher ID or a student ID they could save 25%. Of course Kath had forgot her student ID (having just completed her Masters at UofT) and as for myself? I've been kicking myself on and off this whole year for not thinking to bring my teacher ID, or buy a fake student ID on Khosan Road in Bangkok.

Dinner – watched a few episodes of The Community, and then back to the mall. Inception would be viewed. That it was starting six minutes after we got there was perfect.

It was a pretty good movie. My only regret? That it's so hard to be shocked. I feel like every convention has been exploited. The audience was gasping at some scenes, and I was wondering how they failed to see them coming? By the end of the first ten minutes, the whole movie should be obvious. There are also obvious signs the whole way leading you to understand how it will end (which should be obvious very early on – or from trailers, if you're one of those with access to such things.) But – that doesn't mean it wasn't a delight. I just wish I could watch it with the virgin eyes of those around me who were somehow shocked by the ending (never mind the children hadn't aged, and that they were dressed the same as an earlier memory.)

It felt like The Matrix. For so many people it blew them away. For me? It just reminded me of Dark City and Thirteenth Floor. The last movie to really shock me was Memento – which I had the luxury of watching in a theatre as a random, “hey I've never heard of this, let's check it out,” pick. Had I waited a week or so longer, it would have all been spoiled by the media that was loving it at the time.

There was also a time travel movie, where these guys build a time machine in a storage locker? I can't quite recall how it all played out – but I remember it was confusing. I can't recall of that meant it was good, like Memento or just boring, like the Waking Life.

I do look forward to reading the Internet's take on Inception though, and getting a detailed break down of all the “rules” for dreaming. Recommended on account of being pretty fantastic, and all sorts of pretty.

Plus, arctic soldier are always great. They remind me of GI JOE.

When the movie ended, rather than going to sleep like we should have – six aye em is not getting any further away, and that's when we have to be on the road tomorrow to get to Orlando – we stayed up and finished watching The Community. It's a pretty funny tv show, provided you're ok with character motivation changing every episode, and a lot of things not really making all that much sense. Good silly fun. I'm down.

Around one we set the alarm and went to sleep. Five. That's a lot of hours to sleep anyway, right?

It used to be...

Saturday, July 24, 2010

Florida Consumerism

We headed back to the library. This, of course, meant we headed past the library book sale again. It's about time I hit up a run down of all the terrible terrible things we have bought. You need to know the quality of books we're buying. I'll try my best to justify them here, but know that no amount of justification can really make sense of five Michael Crichton novels. Two or three? Maybe. Four – that's pressing it. Five? There's no excuse.

Congo, Michael Crichton – Killer apes. The movie was terrible, but after the success of Jurassic Park people thought it just might work. On screen it did not, but if I can get enjoyment from terrible science fiction series, then I'm sure there's something there. There just has to be.

The Lost World, Michael Crichton – The sequel to Jurassic Park. No T-Rex hits the mainland here. I remember this book being swift and sweet. I read it during a storm on an island accessible only by little ten horse power tin cans in the middle of a native reservation. It's time I give it a read again. Dinosaurs are awesome.

State of Fear, Michael Crichton – I don't know what this is about. It's got a back that lists praise from a few sources, so there are no plot summaries here, but for fifty cents it has so many pages. Might as well give it a go.

Time Line, Michael Crichton – Yet another in the list of novels that were turned into movies that didn't make the cut. I liked the premise of this movie, and if the novel can expand on it, in the ways I've always hoped it would... then there is some hope. Now not all his novels made terrible adaptations. Sphere was pretty true to the novel, but it wasn't a great novel. I loved it when I read it as a wee one, but the end that made nothing matter at all really bothered me, and set me up for a life time of anger with the “it's all a dream” / didn't matter plot cliche. Also we got the 13th Warrior from Crichton's Eaters of the Dead. I do love this movie, but I'm not sure how it would hold up as a novel. I must find out some day. Mind you there's no SF there, not in the movie anyway. And then there's the Andromeda Strain that gave him the first big push – I know nothing of this. I have avoided the terrible 80s costumes all my life.

Prey, Michael Crichton – I think Stargate owes every single replicator story line to this novel. Maybe not, maybe something else came first, but this is what the back of the book makes it out to be. Katherine picked up this novel. In fact the next four are hers as well.

A Modern Treasury of Great Detective and Murder Mysteries, Ed Gorman – you know it's great when there's neither enough great detective or great murder mysteries to go it alone. Looking at the faded dust jacket (didn't BTTFII claim we should have moved on from these by now?) one wonders if quality control was as high back then as it is now.

Star Trek: Voyager – Mosaik, Jeri Taylor – The life and times of Captain Janeway written by the creator of Voyager, so you know it's totally in canon! Wowzers. I don't know what's worse? Having bought this book, or that knowing the purchase is precursor to having to read the entire text? So much potential for terrible here. Really, that's the only potential. Back in the early days before the re-launch of the Star Trek series in novel form little effort was put into the texts. Still – creator and all.

Best English Short Stories, Gordon an Hughes – Another treasury from the darker dust jacketed times. These are the books that rot mildewed in your basement. Ashamed to throw them out, but not compelled enough to make room on your shelf for them.

Geisha, A Life, Mineko Iwasak – A biography of a Geisha. There may be some hope here.

Forrest Gump, Winston Groom – I have wanted to read this since I realize Forrest Gump was not an original movie, but based on a novel from 1984. By page six is differs from the movie (Forrest is 6 foot 6, over two thirty pounds.) Even the first line contradicts the film, rather than life being a box of chocolates, and all that, Winston Groom writes, “let me say this: being an idiot is no box of chocolates.” What makes the book wonderful is that due to the diction one needs to read it aloud with proper accent. And I am.

The Beautiful Miscellaneous, Dominic Smith – It's a Trade Paperback which normally means it might be modern enough to be awesome. The cover? The rainbow spelling of miscellaneous, it makes me feel this could be a real cracker of a read. Son of a genius, terrible accident, starts to perceived the world differently. I'm hooked.

Anonymous Lawyer, Jeremy Blachman – The last book we have bought (thus far.) It's another Trade Paperback. Not good enough for mass market, but at the same time, that means it should have a reading level above grade five, and ideas that could be seen as subversive. It's written in the form of a blog, by a lawyer. It's supposed to be funny. Written by a blog author. You know what, maybe there is little hope for this, but it will be a quick read. So there's that.

Sandstorm, James Rollins – Ahh yes, I almost forgot about this one. Katherine picked up this gem because it had a three dimensional cover. One of those scratchy plastic things they used to put on collectible cereal boxes, or the box for the Jurassic Park, Lost World, VHS.

I'd like to say that's all we've bought since coming to Florida, but with little to do, we've spent a lot of time in malls and shops. The benefit of this is that I finally picked up a ukulele – Mahalo U320C with little gig bag, and an extra set of strings. It came to eighty bucks. Because it was so poorly tuned in store, I asked about how to tune it and was shown the magic of the friction screws, and told how to properly tune this beast. I would have screwed it up and busted it, me thinks, were I to have not asked.

I don't want to explain how long it took me to figure out I had to use the pegs on the two lighter strings too, even though they were in tune (a whole key off.) Now I can play This Magic Moment like a pro-star. Kinda sorta. I can play it anyway. Give me a song without Ds or Bs and I'm golden.

But it didn't stop there either. Today we headed out to Edison Mall in Fort Myers. It's named due to the fact that one Edison, T used to frequent the area back in the proverbial day. Now it's home to Hot Topic. Yes – Hot Topic. Look, it's not that I want to admit I shop there, but they do have great T-Shirts, and ever since Stew from Germany, and Japan, an back home, got me the Canada t-shirt, thus making them a viable option again, well I've been looking around.

One shirt had little robot GIR so excited, screaming, “I'm making waffles!” Well – I love waffles. And GIR. There was no choice. At least I avoided the Scott Pilgrim shirt. It was eight bit wonderful, but I would have felt like a poser. Were I to have read the book over the past six years, sure – but I only picked up at the end, and I still can't even find the sixth book. Three more shops were hit up in the Fort Myer area without success. Two not having it, one sold out. With the movie less than a month away, what's wrong with these people?

Katherine, too, grabbed a few shirts – one of a cute cartoony Link being all pissed off, the other of a Perler Sprite GIR which I will have to create when we get back. She may have also got a GIR water bottle, and wallet. Who can say?

This is what we've become. Consumer whores. And it's kinda sorta wonderful. On the other hand, we're supposed to be staying in Florida to save money. Funny that. Well, with just tomorrow left to hang around, before our four days at Universal we'll be on the move once more in no time. How sweet that will be.

In unrelated news, there is a giant monster stork that lives outside our home, whose foot long beak threatens to cut through the screen like a warm knife, and butter. I am not terrified of this monster, no matter how much it looks like the evil Marabou stork of death. Not at all. But if we could just keep it away? Well that would be great, thanks.
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