As things turned out, timing was actually going to be on my side for once. That particular Thursday morning we would all be visiting my in-laws in central Maine. Because of my wife’s somewhat unusual choice of profession as ferry captain, it means that her workweek is anything but the Monday through Friday, nine to five routine which most folks live in. Much of the time she works second shift type hours and weekends fall… well… wherever they can. We’ve done Tuesdays and Fridays; we’ve had Mondays and Wednesdays. You name the combination and she’s had it. All, that is, except for Saturday and Sunday. That’s something that just never ever happens in her line of work except for the very most senior of the senior captains, which se is not. Not yet, anyway. With her current schedule however, our weekend, for the moment anyway, was Wednesday-Thursday. That, and because I’m a full time stay at home Dad, my weekends are… frankly, never. BUT! I don’t have an office to go to. That is, unless you count the kitchen.
We arrived on Wednesday afternoon and after the various pleasantries about the drive, how we’ve been and what should we feed the kids, I explained the situation to my wife’s folks. Tomorrow morning we were going to need the computer. All of the computers, actually.
Being a huge tech geek and former I.T. director, I admit that I like computers. That’s not quite right. I LOVE computers. I like them powerful and portable and I had made darned sure that my wife and I had our laptops with us and ready to go when the time was nigh. To make things even better, my in-laws had just recently switched from the slow-as-tar-in-January connection that they had to a super fast cable connection full of wonderful high speed broadband goodness. Now, it was time to stop rowing and start hoping.
After reading and then rereading the rules of the game on the Kennedy Space Center website, I explained it to my wife.
“Okay, here’s how it works. At eight forty-five the site will open a page that will let us in to a virtual waiting room. Once the virtual waiting room fills up, they will close it off to new arrivals, so we have to be very, very fast on that.”
“And then we can buy tickets?” Action Girl looked a little groggy as she hovered over her steaming mug of coffee, but she was doing her best to look attentive.
“No. Not quite” This was where things got interesting. “That gives us the chance that we might get picked at random while in the waiting room to be allowed to buy tickets, providing that someone else hasn’t hovered them all up already.”
“Agreed. But that’s the way they play. And it’s not over yet. IF, we get into the waiting room and then IF one of us gets picked then we will be given exactly two minutes to fill out the information to order the tickets. If we go over the two minute mark, we get bumped back into the waiting room, but by then it will probably be too late to get picked again.”
Blank, semi-caffeinated eyes looked back at me. One eyebrow arched and was followed by a very flat, “What?”
“Yah, so we need to be ready.”
“I’m gonna need more coffee.” And with full mugs in hand, we sat down and got prepared.
I set the two laptops up on the dining room table and once they were set at the right page on the Kennedy Center’s website, I then attended to my in-law’s machine. Everything was ready and we all had our jobs. Mine was the laptops. My wife’s was the other desktop computer. My in-law’s was to keep the kids entertained and prevent them from trying to climb into our laps and demand to watch (in my daughter’s case) kid shows such as Miffy, Kipper or Maisy Mouse, or (in my son’s case) videos of rockets or the Space Shuttle. This had an added difficulty factor being that the page we had to wait at was covered with a rocket and space motif. Once Short Stack spotted that, the pleading began instantly.
“Later, I swear. Right now we need to do something important.”
“But Daddy, can’t we just watch one video? Puh-LEEZE?”
The easy thing to do would have been to simply explain why I couldn’t. I could just tell him that we were all trying to get tickets for him to go and see these things in person and just how awesome that would be. He is three, and the idea of putting off a little enjoyment now for a lot later on is a difficult concept for him to grasp, but I had met with some success there before. The very real problem was possible failure. Very possible, actually. I had no idea what our chances were to get launch tickets and the idea of getting him all cranked up to see something that would blow his mind that much… and then not making it out of their hideous little virtual waiting room… well, I just didn’t think I could deal with that sort of guilt. I know it wouldn’t be my fault, but still, the look of a deeply disappointed child, YOUR deeply disappointed child is just too withering for me to want to get anywhere near.
I’d rather eat bugs.
So, with my in-law’s best attempts to get him distracted, Action Girl and I sat, drank more coffee and waited.
“Get ready…” I didn’t take my eyes off the clock on my laptop. The clock that is set via the Internet, so you just KNOW it’s right.
Three clicks and all three computers navigate away from their page and into the waiting room. “Okay, so we’re in. Now we wait.”
Here, I give my wife some serious credit. While we had been waiting, it was her idea to copy down all our information, credit card numbers, addresses, names, etc, on another document on the computer. Then, if one of us got in, we could simply cut and paste it all into the appropriate fields without worry of error. That, and it would be faster.
It was all set to go and just as I had hoped, BING, I was in.
The computer that got he magic pass happened to be my own and with a whoop, I quickly focused on filling out everything perfectly. Easy! And as I typed, I realized that it was going to be even easier than I thought! The information that is so commonly needed on forms like this is cached in your computer’s browser memory and the auto-filling took over as I zipped though. Names and phone numbers appeared without me having to do a thing! The only thing that made me pause was when I had to decide on the type of ticket.
Causeway or Space Center?
Causeway was a better view.
Space Center had stuff to look at.
What to do?
I looked at my son who was at that moment playing with his wooden Space Shuttle, making a low pass about three millimeters over his nose as he added rocket noises for effect. He worships rockets. He loves them. He needed to be surrounded by them when the moment came. That, and like I said, they had bathrooms.
Space Center, it was.
I clicked the appropriate button and hit “Complete”
I reached the end with time to spare. I smiled… then went bug eyed.
Instead of being shown the “You’re all set, you lucky boy” page, I was looking at my form again with a message stating that there were, “some errors.”
As I looked down the list of information, I realized that I had been sabotaged by my very own machine. Auto-fill had been less than perfect, but that didn’t stop it from trying! Here and there, I started to see where, in an effort of helpfulness, my computer had put down things that didn’t make sense. Phone numbers that were in wrong fields, Addresses that were either incomplete or overly so. I had to do some quick triage.
A few seconds of work and… “Complete.”
“There are some errors that we…”
I scanned though the form again looking for the offending fields and tried and mostly failed to stop swearing in the presence of my children. I felt like I was an involuntary contestant on some evil game show. I do not know who programmed this site or decided on its rules, but I can safely say that if they were present at that moment, I would have elbowed them in the groin. “Accidentally,” of course.
“Third time’s the charm?” I clicked “complete” again and mumbled through clenched teeth. “Come on you bastard. Take it!”
“Congratulations! You are reserved for two tickets at the viewing area at the Kennedy Space Center for STS-131 on March 13th.
(Note to readers: We didn’t’ miss nor see the launch already. It was rescheduled for April 5th. More on that later)
I’m not certain, but it sounded to me like I let out at least three lungs worth of held breath as I rocked back in my seat and smiled. We were in. We had the tickets. Nothing would stop us now.
“Hey,” My wife said excitedly. “I just got picked from the waiting room! Do you need any more tickets? Are you sure you’re all set?”
It was an odd moment and a possibility that I hadn’t really considered. Did I need any more tickets? I had heard about tickets being resold on eBay for over a grand each and the reality of that notion hung there in the room like low fruit. “No. I’m all set. We’ve got what we need.”
Let someone else get the tickets. Perhaps there was another father and son who were dying to go. Perhaps they were still languishing in the waiting room thumbing through dog eared virtual copies of Field and Stream and LIFE Magazine. To take there dreams away would be totally unfair. Hopefully, they’d get called up next.
With that, we shut down the computers, stood up, stretched and topped up mugs with more coffee. We did it.
“Dad, NOW can we watch some rocket videos?” His Shuttle was gripped in his hand as he looked up at me.
“Yah, I think we can now. What one do you want to see?”
With that, I sat back down, reopened the laptop and let him scurry into my lap as I punched in the URL for YouTube and searched for the NASA channel.
“Let’s watch that one!” and a little finger shot out to direct me to the chosen clip.
“Sure Buddy.” I was one happy dad, and now so was he. All we needed to do now was get there.
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