Space shuttle Endeavour launch

I was in Orlando for a business meeting today. Tonight after dinner Scott, my roommate for the night, had the TV on a weather channel as we talked about stuff. The hours flew by and suddenly it was after 11 PM. We were about to turn off the TV when I heard the magic words “space shuttle launch.” Huh? Launch? When? And they were talking about a launch tonight. From Kennedy Space Center, less than an hour away.

Scott was too pooped to go. I called Ken. He had just seen a launch a few months ago and didn’t want to do a late night road trip. But he said Patrick was interested. Cool! I gave him a call and sure enough, he was game. Neither one of us had ever seen a launch in person.

We met in the hotel lobby, hopped in my truck and ROAD TRIP. We followed my GPS to get to the toll road across the state, then followed the signs to Kennedy from there. The traffic was fairly light until we dropped down past US-1 and headed into the Space Center itself. Then it was a complete log jam. We still had an hour to go, but we were just inching along. Then we made some progress, but completely stopped again. And again. Then we noticed the advances we made were from the cars that were turning around way in front of us, and heading back the other way. This wasn’t going to work.

So we turned around as soon as we could, got onto US-1 southbound, then stopped at a McDonalds to get the scoop on the best viewing area from a local. The gal in the drive through told us of a park and boat ramp just across the street and down the road about 100 yards, right on the Intracoastal Waterway with a perfect view of the launch pad. Cool! We were in business.

The parking lot was full, so we parked along US-1 then walked to the waterfront and sat on the seawall. Way off in the distance we could see the spotlights pointing at a little dot of white – the shuttle! We still had about 25 minutes to liftoff so we talked to some of the others around us. One couple from was Connecticut and vacationing in Ft. Lauderdale. They’d driven up in the morning and spent the day and most of the night waiting, waiting, waiting. It was their first launch also. Another guy had just been hired on as a security guard at the Space Center and was going to start next Monday. He was from the area and had seen a ton of launches over the decades. It was old hat to him.

A guy nearby had a radio tuned to launch information and announced 2 minutes to liftoff. The crowd was buzzing. 30 seconds! I started recording on my camera. 15 seconds. . . And then a small flash of light. . . And then a huge burst of light as the ship took off. It filled the sky with light! It lifted up and up, and then into the clouds. Completely out of sight. It lasted about 30 seconds. I kept recording until the sound hit us, a little more than a minute later.

It was quick, but it was impressive. And it was worth missing a few hours sleep. VERY COOL.

What? It’s leap year again?

Wednesday, Feb 27 – Plant City

We rode the yellow horse (Pam) and Holly (me) during our riding lesson this evening. Tonight was the first time I’ve ever loped on a horse (faster and more comfortable than a trot, slower than a gallop). I instantly threw my right hand in the air, made a lassoing motion, and yelled “Yee ha!” I think I embarrassed Pam.

Relaxed from the fresh air, we headed home and packed for our cruise.

Thursday, Feb 28 – Miami

Less than five hours of driving, a slight detour (even with the GPS I managed to miss an exit – the same one twice!), and here we are in Miami. We’re standing in the cruise ship terminal , and Pam asks me a simple question: “Did you get the hanging bag?” Oops. Still hanging in the closet. In Tampa. All of Pam’s dresses. My suit and Dockers. All we have are jeans and shorts, so no eating in the main dining room for us. Pam laughed it off: “You know – who cares? Let’s just relax and enjoy this trip.”

Beautiful sunset out of Miami. Was it only two months ago that we did this the last time? With the bottle of sparkling white wine that we found waiting for us in our cabin we toast ourselves and the good weather. We ate a leisurely dinner on our balcony, light years away from the cattle herd in the main dining room, and finished off the bottle. The wait staff doesn’t quite know what to do with us. We confused them – “You’re going to stay in tonight?” they’d ask with a look of disbelief.

The wine. The sound of the waves. The warm air. We slept like babies.

Friday, Feb 29 – Key West

Leap Year cruise. Have we started a new tradition? Every leap year do we have to go on a cruise, and be on the cruise on Leap Day. Dunno. We’ll see.

We ate a big breakfast – scrambled eggs, bacon, grits, coffee – in preparation for our walking tour of Key West. Our tour guide was a delightful little lady who’d been living on the Key for about twelve years. She had a great sense of humor and was just a bit irreverent. Highlights of the day – Hemingway’s house, leaning against mile marker 0 on Highway 1, and the original Sloppy Joe’s (which is now called Captain Tony’s), and a slice of Key Lime Pie. Now that was a piece of heaven. Lowlight of the day – the “actor” who was our tour guide in the house itself. He was a loon who thought he was God’s gift to Key West. We endured his flat jokes and failed attempts at drama while we rolled our eyes at each other and snickered.

Then there’s Duval Street. Apparently Duval Street can get pretty rowdy at times – one of those starting a couple of weeks from now when spring break season begins. Bet it’ll a real zoo then. Now? Just a bunch of people enjoying a sunny, mid-70 degree February day in the Keys.

Dinner on the balcony again. Well, not really dinner, but simply a slice of pizza to tide us over. We ate a huge lunch on the ship after our walking tour. Me? Hamburger, hot dog, fries, chocolate chip cookies. Yummy health food. So just a slice of pizza for dinner, then lights out.

Saturday, March 1 – Cozumel

Where is everyone? At 8:00 we head topsides for breakfast, and there’s just a handful of people on deck. The sun is out, it’s warm, the skies are clear. This is definitely different. Unlike on our other cruises, nobody has “reserved” blocks of chairs for their group, hours in advance of their appearing. (If they appear at all…)

We ate another big breakfast just like yesterday, then head to the upper deck to catch some rays. We hang out for a few hours – our tours don’t start until noon – and still there’s hardly anyone on deck. Wonder what kind of party we missed last night?

Saw some flying fish this morning. Had never seen them in the Gulf before. Coolness. These have darker colorings on them than the ones we saw in the Atlantic, which were completely silver.

At noon we head downstairs for our tours. Pam’s on the horseback tour of the island, I’m on a two tank scuba dive. We’ll see each other in about four or five hours.

The diving was great. In January when we were here the waves were extremely rough – all of the excursions were canceled (even the shore-based ones). This time – warm air, light breeze, little waves. The scuba diving was sweet. Clear water, beautiful reef and coral, lots of fish. The dive master gave a us a solid pre-dive briefing which made me very comfortable – no “Open Water” movie experiences with this dive boat. And everyone (only 13 of us) on board seemed to know what was going on, unlike the folks on my boat in Grand Cayman. We split into two smaller groups, so it definitely wasn’t an under water circus.

On the first dive, just after I’d settled to the bottom I spotted a young sea turtle having a mid-afternoon snack. It lay there going about its business, not at all caring that I was filming it. It looked like a Disney animatron. I ended up taking a lot more videos than pictures. Some of both turned out pretty cool. The dive leader took us through some coral tunnels, then pointed out a nurse shark and later a sea horse. I’d never seen either before. All in all, it was a good afternoon of diving. I didn’t want it to end.

Pam got back to the ship just a few minutes after me. Her horseback ride was hot hot hot, but fun. The guide would point to something and say, “I’ll tell you what this is when we get to some shade.” You had to buy bottled water if you wanted some, but the Coronas were free. Cool. I would have liked that place. So Pam was a bit droopy after being in the sun all day, followed by a few beers on an empty stomach. We ate a big lunner then crashed for the evening.

Sunday, March 2 – en route to Miami

This morning the chair hoarders were out en masse. Most of the chairs were “reserved” with beach towels, and not a person in sight. Now this is more like it – real Cruise Ship attitude. The morning started off cool and overcast, with the head wind adding to the boat’s 20 knot speed. It wasn’t comfortable at all, but we were determined to stick it out for a while. About 10 minutes later I’d had enough cold, sunless air and started for the cabin. But as I got to the front of the Lido deck – no wind! It was being blocked by the superstructure. We found an open patch of deck, dragged our lounge chairs over and instantly our mood brightened.

With our promising new location secured we waited out the clouds in one of the 4 hot tubs. A few minutes later the sun broke through and the temperature climbed into the low 80s. And we didn’t have any wind blasting us. Perfect. We slathered on the sunscreen and settled in for a few hours of sun worshiping.

In the evening the clouds returned and it was just too windy to have dinner on the balcony. We dragged the table inside and ordered a full room service meal with a bottle of sparkling white wine. Suddenly we were in our 20s again, eating, drinking, and laughing, not a care in the world…. and fell sound asleep. A beautiful end to the cruise.