Away We Go… Part II

In the days before we left, I had been busy in my little workshop in the basement. I fully admit that I’m a serial “Do it Your Self”-er and I had been cranking at full steam to get this particular project done in time for our trip.

Last Christmas, I had picked him up a little wooden Space Shuttle with magnetic boosters that clicked satisfyingly onto its bottom. From an aesthetic point of view, it’s quite nice and even came with a little truck you could use to pick up the boosters once they fell away after launch. From an accuracy point of view, it was totally wrong.

Guess what side Short Stack saw it from?

The first thing I was requested to correct was the obviously missing, orange, external fuel tank. I could see how that would bug him. It is, after all the largest part of the entire Shuttle Launch Vehicle. With the use of a very fat dowel, a belt sander, some screws for the magnets to stick to and some orange paint, he was in business. Then he started to notice other things.

“These boosters are very short, Daddy. Do you see how long they are in the picture? Mine are too short. Can you make me some that are longer and have a point on the top? Mine just are round, and that’s not the way they are supposed to be, see?” He held them about three inches from my face to make sure that I couldn’t possibly miss this undeniable fact. Instinctively, I pulled my head back so as to avoid any unintentional eye injuries. That, and my focal length isn’t what it used to be.

“Ah, Oh yes. I see what you mean.” Here, most normal folks might try and beg off and get the child to enjoy what they have, but I have an Achilles’ heal that gets me every time. I LOVE to build stuff… and Short Stack knows it. “Well, is that how you ask?”

“Puh.LEEEZE!?” The giant grin and toothy, “EEEEEEZE” part was all I needed. Back to the basement!

A little while later, things were looking better. The boosters were the right shape and size, the orange tank looked solid and correct and… “Daddy, look. This Shuttle is kind of flat on its nose. It should be rounded. And why doesn’t it have a vertical stabilizer?” As the son of an airplane nut, Short Stack has some vocabulary that falls outside of the normal four year old demographic, Vertical Stabilizer being a good example. What can I say? He makes me proud. He was also, again, correct. This was going to take some heavy thinking on my part.

Altering the little wooden Shuttle that he had was out of the question. It would have simply been too much to change. Nope. It was time to do my favorite thing and make it from scratch. In the end, it wasn’t as hard to make as I though and I was happily vindicated in my obsessive hoarding of every scrap of wood that I make as I work on our house. The wings are a piece of cedar shingle. The body is made from a bit of pine. The engine bump-outs and the much needed vertical stabilizer were fashioned from bits of ash and the rocket nozzles, from some old Chinese takeout chopsticks. Some grey, while and black paint, and it was ready for the finishing touches. These, I am most proud of.

As a trained artist, I have done a lot of detailed, fine work. I’ve painted carefully and skillfully at times and know what my limitations are. Replicating the miniature flags, NASA shield, escape hatch and cockpit windows… was beyond them. It was time to cheat a little.

For those of you who made plastic models as a kid, remember water slide decals? They came on a tiny sheet of paper and needed to be carefully cut out one by one. To shaky kid fingers, they were always a trial and knowing that they were also irreplaceable made it worse. After cutting them out, you needed to soak them in water for thirty seconds. What’s happening in that time is you are loosening the printed decal part from the paper backing. Once its time is up, you take them out and slide them onto the model. As a child, I remember stressing over the process and wondering why they couldn’t just make them peel and stick. The reason is, because the water slide ones look so much better! The awesome news is, you can now buy the blank paper and print your own, which is exactly what I did. With a little Google-fu, I managed to find some images of Space Shuttle decal sheets, pick the parts I needed, get it to scale for the model I made, print them out and attach them. A topcoat of spray poly over the whole thing seals them in for good and voila!

Naturally, I decided to make it Discovery.

I had finished it the day before with not a little stress. As I’ve said before, I seem to, regrettably, be at my most creative and focused when under the gun, time wise. I had presented it to Short Stack while the fumes were still detectible and he was instantly launching it into orbit from the living room couch. The Christmas Shuttle, with all its wrong glory was relegated to standby status and waits for less picky imaginations to take it on adventures. Oh well. There’s always Lulu Belle.

Now, as we arrived at our departure gate and claimed our spot, I reached into Short Stack’s backpack and pulled it out. Happily and with out a though, he established a launch site next to the huge picture windows in the departure lounge and, to the enjoyment of several onlooking adults, picked up where he left off back at home.

“10, 9, 8,… Ignition sequence start. 7, 6, 5, 4, 3, 2, 1. LIFTOFF of the Space Shuttle Discovery! Flying into space and missions beyond!” All of this is said with gusto, focus and most of all, sincerity. With his nose almost pressed to the external tank, the Portland Airport had its first Shuttle launch, Short Stack in command.

I had another surprise for him. Something I had managed to keep to my self until now. The something special I had snuck out of his room the night before.

“Hey, Short Stack. Look what I brought.” I dug into the bag again and he dutifully scooted away from his discarded solid rocket boosters to peer over my arm in an effort to see.

“Is it a rocket?” This is his de facto question for any surprise you have.

“Nope, but you can’t have a rocket with out one.” That got his interest! With a little flourish, I pulled out a single, old school LEGO astronaut and flag and handed them to my son. These particular pieces had actually been mine when I was a kid. Now, they were his.

Short Stack smiled.

I smiled.

Then he looked again. “Where are the rest of them?”

Ugh. Kids.

What he was referring to were the red, blue, yellow and black colored astronauts which I had not collected that evening and who now remained back home on his dresser. I figured that keeping track of all of them on the trip would be a nightmare and had opted for only the white suited one since he looked the most like a real astronaut.

“I just brought him. I though that would be enough.” I have to confess, I was a little taken aback by his reaction. Here, I had brought something special, something unexpected and personally important to me and my son was simply asking for more. I tried not to overtly show my disapproval and started to formulate a mini lecture in my head about being thankful and not always wanting. Just then, I was hit with that pure, laser like kid logic that can make you completely regret whatever you’re thinking.

“But he has no friends. He’ll get lonely.”

Short Stack: +1
Dad: 0

After taking a couple of seconds to think the worst of my self, I did my best to come up with an answer to satisfy my kind, sensitive kid whom I obviously didn’t give enough credit. Thank God they can’t hear you think.

“No he won’t, Buddy! He’ll be with us… We’ll be his friends.”

In a moment of guilt fueled inspiration, I decided to make the little LEGO man fully a part of our mission. To do that though, he needed to be more than just “LEGO guy.” He needed a name.

“Let’s call him… Neil.”

Short Stack’s nose crinkled up, squashing many of his abundant freckles in the process as a bemused smile spread across his face. “Neil? That’s a funny name!”

“Not really.” I assured, “Lots of people are named Neil. And one Neil is a very famous Neil. Do you know why?” A shake of my son’s head gave me the chance to play up the drama of the moment. “He… was the first astronaut to walk on the moon!”

That was all it took. Short Stack immediately picked him up and started telling me the adventures that Neil was off to. In no time at all, he had Neil walking on the moon again, riding on rockets and floating in space. Neil and he were inseparable and the little LEGO man was once again finding himself the central figure in the playful imaginings of a child.

For Neil, unnamed until now, it had been a long wait.

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Away We Go… Part I

The night before our own personal launch, I scurried around trying to find all the last little bits and pieces that we might want on our trip. I knew that I had all the essential gear packed up, so now I was down to the silly stuff. This is the moment where my dear and lovely wife and I often split ways when it comes to packing. The way it goes, I grab something, usually on a whim, that I think would be fun or humorous to bring along. Next, I get spotted by her as I try unsuccessfully to sneak it into a bag without being noticed.

“Why are you bringing that? We won’t need it. It just adds weight.” This is often accompanied by a look that conveys exactly what she thinks of my decision making abilities. Excuses are rarely given by me since, as the male half of this relationship, it’s rarely worth making a case. I take whatever it is out, let her leave the room, entertain thoughts of putting it back and then think better of it. The kicker is that she’s almost always right about this. I don’t like to admit that last part.

This time though, I was sneaky. Well, sneakier than usual anyway.

In a flash of juvenile inspiration, I quietly slipped into the room of my slumbering little boy, grabbed what I wanted and stuffed it into my shirt pocket. Once I was back down stairs, I packed it quickly away into the confines of my own carry-on. I was not spotted. Phew!

Now, I had everything!

Our flight was for eleven-thirty in the morning and, air travel being what it is today, I was determined to be early. Very, very early, if at all possible. I don’t trust that anything will work smoothly when it comes to airports. When it does, it seems to be a notable event. When we stepped out of the car and gathered our bags, we had three hours. Good for problem solving in the event of difficulties. Not so good if you’re a bored four year old. Well, at least we could take our time checking in. With a last minute pep talk to my son about how important it was to stay close to me, we headed to check in.

Let’s be honest here. You expect flying to be hideous these days. You expect humorless and possibly clueless TSA agents to make your life hell by questioning if your electric toothbrush is an incendiary device. You know that the airlines will charge you a zillion hidden fees you never thought they’d have the audacity to hit you with. You know that since you can no longer bring any drinks and many foods through security that the vendors at the gates will hose you for every penny you have for that yoghurt and bottle of spring water. This was my expectation as well, and that’s why I was so surprised with the two women manning the check-in desk.

“Welcome to JetBlue! Are you guys going off on an adventure?” Either this was said with a genuine smile and perky attitude or she was angling for an Oscar nomination. Either way, it was mighty disarming.

“Uh, yah. We are actually. We’re going to Florida.” This is when the other ticket agent, currently not burdened with any other customers, chimed in.

“Is this your first flight?” The question seemed a bit odd until I realized that it was not intended for me, but the little red headed boy clinging to my leg. A few nods were all she got in return of her question. I smiled at her and spoke for my son who was busy pretending that he was shy.

“Yah, it’s his first time in a jet. We’re going to go watch a Shuttle launch. Just the two of us.”

“Oh, a father and son trip? That’s great! Do you think he’d like a snack for the trip?”

We did, in fact, have several cartloads of snacks with us, but never being one to pass on a free item, I said that it would be much appreciated. As one of the women continued to check us in, the other went out back and returned with a package of animal crackers for Short Stack.

That was nice!

“Now, do you have any liquids or jells in your carry on?” This was the part I wasn’t sure about. I used to fly quite a bit, but it had been a while now. The last flight I had taken, Action Girl and I had packed a full picnic lunch for ourselves and walked right through security with it, no trouble at all.

“Well, I do have two juice boxes for my son. Is that all right?” Grimaces are never a good sign.

“Nope. You can’t do that, I’m afraid. That and anything smearable.”

“Smearable? What do you mean?”

With an exasperated look that I understood to be aimed at the regulations rather than the clueless traveler (me), she ran through some examples of the more ludicrous kind.

“No puddings or toothpastes. No hair gel or lotions. Bananas might or might not be allowed and it’s only happened once that I know of, but I did hear about a child not being able to bring a peanut butter and jelly sandwich. It’s pretty…” She picked her words carefully and diplomatically. “…inconvenient sometimes.”

“Are you serious? A sandwich and a banana?” I must have looked horrified and/or pathetic, because both ladies jumped in to help.

“First, let’s pack up your juice boxes in your luggage. That way you can have them in Florida and not lose them here. I’ve got some plastic bags and we’ll triple them up so they won’t leak if they puncture.” As I unzipped my backpack to pull them out, she offered more assistance. “Next, since I can see you have a couple of bananas, I’d suggest that you carry them in your hand so as to make it obvious what they are and that you’re not trying to hide them. I’m betting that you’ll walk right through with no trouble today.”

As we repacked our suitcase, I made a comment as to how things have changed. That brought a rueful chuckle from both of them.

“Oh yah. They sure have. “ It was the animal cracker lady. “I used to be a flight attendant for years. It’s nothing like it used to be. We used to have a LOT more fun.”

I was dying to find out what kind of fun, since I was pretty sure, judging by the mirth in her eyes, that the stories were pretty good, but we were all set now and Short Stack was out of crackers and getting pretty bored with adult talk. It was time to go. The last thing she asked me was, “ Did you lock it?” which, in turn, made me chuckle.

“No. It’s not locked.”

“Good. Have a great flight!”

I remember a day when that question from check-in was looking for a totally different answer.

As we strolled to our gate, we encountered our first trial. The TSA check. This was something I had been wondering about. How was I going to work this? It’s a pain for adults to do solo, let alone with a munchkin who was new to this. In the next five minutes I managed to heartstoppingly lose my tickets, momentarily, into a pocket I didn’t think I had placed them, forget my very smearable, possibly explosive bananas and freshly validated tickets on the TSA officer’s desk, misplace my computer in the wrong little grey tub and then almost let Short Stack feed himself through the x-ray scanner in pursuit of his back pack, while I fumbled with my own belongings.

Not an auspicious start. I needed to get on my game. We were still in Maine and I could feel things starting to slip out of control.

As I retrieved my child from the edge of the conveyor belt and then sheepishly accepted my lost boarding passes and fruit from the smirking TSA agent, I decided I needed to focus. If I was already having this many problems, this early in the game, it was time to really knuckle down and pay attention. No more screwups!

Please?

To get to our gate, I plopped him into the lightweight stroller I had decided to bring. I could make far better time that way and I knew where he was. It was not, however, all that interesting for him. We were in a huge, new place and here he was getting whisked along with no chance to run around like a maniac and talk to people. I did my best to pique his interest as we passed various little, “Look what we make here in Maine!” displays. As we came to each one, we talked about what they had inside; jewelry, maple products, LL Bean. All the stuff you’d expect from our state. The last one however, caught me off guard.

In a little glass cube was the green flight suit of military cut. The accompanying pictures showed the wearer and others similarly attired floating in mid-air and grinning like kids on a playground. The picture was taken several thousand feet high as the occupants bounced around, weightless, in the empty passenger area of a Macdonald-Douglas C-9 Skytrain II, or as it’s more popularly known:

The Vomit Comet.

Nicknames are usually based on some kind of fact and the Vomit Comet has a long and, ahem, colorful history. Its origin harkens back to the Mercury Program when NASA needed a way to train astronauts how to work in micro gravity. Here, in the confines of our little blue-green planet, there are only two ways to go about this. The first is to float the astronaut, suit and all, in a huge tank of water. Once they have been perfectly weighted down to achieve neutral buoyancy, they could potter around and pretend to fix satellites.

NASA does in fact do just this and it’s good training, but as anyone who has gone scuba diving can tell you, it has its limitations. It works great for learning to use the space suits, but what about inside the Shuttle, Space Station or any other place where you’d just be in your normal clothes? How do you prepare your self for that? That’s where the big padded airplane came in.

The idea is that twenty people go for a ride on a specially fitted jet. This jet takes them up to a sufficiently high altitude in a surprisingly steep climb, levels out… and then the floor drops away beneath their feet. As the pilot puts the aircraft into its dive, he balances things out very carefully. Too steep and everyone will be plastered to the ceiling. Too shallow and they’ll feel light, but still remain on the floor. At the perfect spot in between, everyone seems to float. I say, “seems” because what’s really happening is that they are falling at the same rate as the jet. You can’t eliminate gravity here on earth, so all you can do is fall in a room that is also falling. The result is the illusion of weightlessness. This sensation lasts for about twenty-five seconds. Then, the plane pulls back up into its climb in the effort to regain some of that lost altitude. Once gained, it’s back down and floating time. This goes on for two to three hours. As you can expect, it can do funny things to your stomach.

The breakdown for the passengers is something like, a third are fine, another third feels ill and the last third gets ill. Actually, they term it “violently” ill.

Still sound fun?

The real twist in the panties is that no matter how hideous a time you might be having, this ride does not end early for your pathetic sake. You just have to ride it out. The logic goes that it’s better to find out here on Earth that you aren’t cut out for space travel rather than getting into orbit and filling every available barf bag on the Space Station. Remember, the you can’t open a window up there. It’s all recirculated. Breath deep, now.

I pointed this out to Short Stack and showed him the pictures of the non-puking, happy looking riders obviously having a great time and doing their best to make a good publicity photo.

“Are those people astronauts? Are they in space?”

“They’re learning to be astronauts, but no, they aren’t in space. That’s a special jet they are riding in.” I knew what the next question would be was.

“Will we do that?” Short Stack didn’t appear too worried or impressed for that matter. He was asking merely for information. He loves information.

“Ah, no. We will be sitting in seats. Not floating around.”

“Oh. Okay.”

At first I was wondering if he was disappointed, but then I realized that his lack of enthusiasm wasn’t disappointment, it was disinterest. The jet ride was his first and as such, was notable and possibly even looked forward to, but it wasn’t a rocket, and if it wasn’t a rocket, it merited only a passing “Oh. Okay.”

Nothing personal. Just not exciting.

At least, not in his book.

That moment was coming fast.

Flightmares

When looking to book a flight for you and your four year old, I realize now there is really only one thing to consider. Simplicity.

I am no stranger to airports. I have seen them all over the world. I have eaten from their various sketchy vending machines; I have waited in smoke choked departure gates for hours on end. I have even, once, hallucinated at one due to nothing more than a toxic combination of sleep deprivation, lack of food and extensive physical exhaustion. That time was memorable.

Many years ago, my family and I were returning to the East Coast after a wonderful vacation in Hawaii. I love Hawaii and have visited many times in my life and hope to go again someday. The visits, however enjoyed, need to be spaced sufficiently far apart from each other for me to mostly forget the nightmare that it is just getting there and back. On this particular trip, we had departed the beautiful Pacific island paradise on an evening flight. Naturally, since it was our last day there, I had stayed up late the day before, risen early that morning and then played hard all that last day. Only when we were on our way back over the ocean did I realize how torturous this was going to be.

I don’t sleep on planes.

Ever.

This was all back before the days of TV’s in the seat backs, laptop computers and iPods. You brought a book, A Sony Walkman, maybe a pocket chess set, but that was about it. Since we were flying through the night, there was very limited entertainment being projected onto the one big, movie screen on the Berlin Wall between First Class and Cattle Class. Mostly, it was dark. Dark and boring. Eventually, we landed, made a plane switch at LAX, and that took us on toward our next connection in O’Hare.

Let me say this now. O’Hare, is awful. Or at least it was. I haven’t been there since and to be honest, I’m still scarred sufficiently to not even think about returning to see if they have ever managed to de-evil the place. It’s huge, sprawling, filled with moving sidewalks that go on for so long that you actually start to fear that you’ll never find your way back and for me, it was also dead. We were there around three AM.

When we had landed in Los Angles, my father, who is also notoriously bad at sleeping, had tried something new on the market to help him out. A neat little pill called Benadryl. Normally, it was used for allergies but because it was an antihistamine, it would also knock you flat. Back then, the notion of “non-drowsy” was unheard of and besides, sleep was what he wanted. Unfortunately for him, my dear Dad is also one of the most drug sensitive people I know. A half dose of anything usually does the trick for him, regardless of the malady. The full dose of Benadryl he gulped down somewhere over Colorado hit him like a freight train. When we landed, Mom and I had to practically drag him to our waiting area, zombie style. Once we had found our gate, he promptly laid down on the floor, face first and started drooling into the gum stained rug. He was unconscious in under ten seconds.

Once I was sure that Mom was all set with everything, my hunger beat out my tiredness and I went foraging for sustenance. We had about two hours to wait, plenty of time to find food.

Two things:

First: Believe it or not, the restaurants in airports do actually close. Really!
Second: You can expect them to be closed at four in the morning.

What this left me doing was pacing back and forth outside of a shuttered cafeteria style establishment where I could hear but not see noisy things happening that hopefully involved the making of breakfast and the opening of the establishment. By five, the metal curtain went up and by five-o-five, I was sitting down and eating pancakes and bacon.

As I chomped and slurped I noticed that my best friend, The Doctor, who was sitting across from me was simply looking on at the messy destruction that I was making of my plate, rather than getting some food for himself.

Around a mouthful of desperately needed, greasy sustenance I managed to ask him, “Do you want some?”

“No.” He replied with a headshake, “I’m all set” and he just smiled at me, seemingly enjoying watching me enjoy the meal.

“Are you sure? If you need some money, I’ve got enough for you too.” I was a little concerned. If I was starving, he must be too.

“No. Really. I’m fine.”

With a shrug and an “Ok” I dug back in and started to cut off another big slice from the hubcap sized pancake. Only then did I pause… and then look up sharply.

He wasn’t gone.
He had never been there at all.

The Doctor hadn’t been on this trip with us. It had all been in my mind, but man-o-man, I would have sworn up, down, left and right that he had been two feet away from me just a second before. The elderly couple in the booth across the isle were staring at me with a odd and somewhat uncomfortable expression, like you would to a street crazy preaching his beliefs, and I suddenly felt rather conspicuous and embarrassed. I managed to inhale much of the rest of my food in under three minutes and with one more spooked look back at the empty seat that had always been empty, I bolted back to my gate before any other weirdness decided to find me and start messing with my already addled brain.

Back in the departure lounge, Mom was still guarding the luggage while Dad sprawled out like a bearskin on a hunting lodge floor. I got home some time later that day and slept off my dementia.

The trip to Florida would naturally, be nothing so epic as that trip, but still the lesson was there. No Benadryl for Dad.

Um, I mean, no connecting flights. Not if you can help it.

There was also the fact that I would have no backup. It was just the two of us and when you are working without a net, you really don’t want to start stacking the deck against yourself.

Initially, this was hard for me to recognize. I am, after all, cheap. The obvious problem I had was that everyone knows that direct flights cost more and I was trying like hell to make this adventure happen for as little as possible. Money saved on transportation could, after all, be spent in gift shops! It was my friend Coley who tenderly and delicately talked some sense into me.

“What are you, NUTS?”

Coley’s never been one to mince words.

“Yah but, the one with the connector is cheaper.” I mean, come on, that’s irrefutable. He could understand that, right? He’s a Yankee!

“Not if you miss your flight. Not if you miss the launch because of delays. The whole point of going would be ruined! They could even loose your luggage.”

The missed or canceled connection was a good argument, but that last point was the most troubling. I was good at sprinting for connections and was pretty confidant that I could fly through a concourse while pushing a stroller at unlawful speeds. Lost luggage was something I had no power over though. Mostly, I wouldn’t care about the lost clothes and toothbrushes, but loosing the tent, our packages and packages of survival food and all the other goodies that I would have to spend a huge amount of time and cash on to make our stay enjoyable, suddenly started to make me rethink my convictions.

Still, the directs cost so much more…

“Did you try JetBlue? They fly directs from here to Orlando and usually have a really good price.”

“They do?” I was amazed. I didn’t think anything flew direct to anywhere from our little corner of Maine. A quick check reveled that not only was my friend right, but that the tickets purchased directly from the airline cost almost exactly what the layover flight on the other airlines would have. They even let you pick your seating! I don’t know how I missed this, but I had. That evening, the tickets were booked and our place on the plane selected. Right side for the trip down, left for the flight back. I figured that way Short Stack could watch the world go by from thirty-three thousand feet rather than a never ending vista of ocean. No carpet drooling or running for far away gates in foreign concourses for us.

Most importantly, no O’Hare.

We were ready.

Tomorrow, we leave for adventure.

Getting back at it…

Taxes are done and in. Now I can write! I’ll try to get something up tonight.

-TP

Houston, we have a problem…

There were some unforeseen issues with the date we were to leave. Initially, the launch was supposed to take place on March 18th at the height of the afternoon. It was going to be perfect for viewing with a young child. Then, like massive pieces of monstrously complex machinery are want to do, something went wrong on the orbiter. Nothing major. Nothing catastrophic, but just a big enough a problem to warrant rescheduling the “go” date for the beginning of the next month. No big deal, right?

Heh…

The first thing that crossed my mind was, “Oh, thank God I didn’t buy the airline tickets yet.” To say that things are a little strained in the airline industry these days is like mentioning that sticking a rosebush in your pants might be somewhat uncomfortable. With the hysteria that has infused every corner of the airline experience combined with the unadulterated fact that the vast majority of carriers are losing money hand over fist, despite the fact that they charge you for your luggage, your drinks, your food and even (I wish I were making this up) the pillows, then you can see why I suspected calling them up and begging for a date change on our tickets would meet with non-helpfulness on a wide and impressive scale. They might do it, but there would be a charge. My only question was if the penalty fee might be more than the price of the ticket. For this very reason, I had begged off on selecting our flight. That, and I’m cheap and hate forking over large sums of money for just about anything and tend to put it off until I can’t let it go any longer.

The second problem was that our departure date would now fall, not only on Easter Sunday, but also my daughter’s second birthday. Great.

In some ways, it’s hardly a big deal. Though my wife and I were raised Catholic, neither of us are practicing any more. To be fair, after eleven years of parochial school, I feel that I’ve practiced enough and am ready for prime time. As for the birthday, well, that stings a bit. The good news is that this is probably the last time I could ever get away with that. She is after all, very, very young and the concept of birthdays to her means only two things: “Pwesents” and “Cake!”

If it were up to Lulu Belle, every day would include pwesents and cake. For her, the fact that it falls on a particular day in the year means exactly, precisely, nothing. Therefore, we’d be having our festivities a day ahead. Problem solved! Plus, since the Easter Bunny doesn’t actually work for the Vatican, we figured that we could talk him into a Saturday delivery as well. All seemed to be working out just fine, even if it does sting a bit for me to miss her special day. I was already missing her and we hadn’t even left yet.

The last little entertainment that cropped up due to the date change was the launch time. Previously, it was going to take place in the sunny afternoon, and, as luck would have it, just before naptime! How perfect can you get? Too perfect, apparently.

When NASA, or anyone else for that matter, wants to launch a rocket, they don’t just pick the time arbitrarily. It needs to be very, very carefully worked out. The issue is that if you want to make a multi-million (or billion) dollar chunk of technology go up into orbit, any old orbit, then when you press the big, red launch button doesn’t really matter. (I’m assuming here that the “launch” button is red. If it isn’t, then it should be. That’s how I’d make them) There’s a lot of space out there and if the engine on the back of your rocket is big enough and you can get it to fly consistently up, then you’re pretty safe to hit it eventually.

It’s kind of hard to miss.

The trick is when you want it to go into just the right orbit. Like I said, space is really big and if you’re going to wind up in the correct bit of it to say, meet up with the International Space Station, then you’re going to need and plan things just right. The Earth, after all is moving and pretty damned fast at that. So is the ISS. It’s cooking along at 17,500 miles per hour (28,163 kph) and though it might look pretty big in the NASA release photos, it’s barely a speck on the horizon. And then you have to find the right horizon. After all, those lucky few whom are riding it get to see a new sunrise ever ninety two minutes! See how tricky this gets? This is also a perfect example of why I’m not a NASA scientist. I’m much more in the Alan Shepard school of thought, who put it this way to Mission Control after waiting in his capsule for over four hours to blast off and become the first American in Space:

“Why don’t you just fix your little problem and light this candle!”

God love you, Alan.

That might have been how things rolled in the early days, but is sure as heck isn’t how things roll now.

So, with the change in the date of the launch, so comes a change in the time of day for the Shuttle to make its launch window. We were now looking at a 6:22 AM launch. “Not bad” you might think. “I’ve seen worse things than getting up just before dawn.”

Ah, yes, but you’re forgetting something. That’s when the launch actually happens. We have tickets for the viewing and they have a non-negotiable, “arrive by” time. Because this is a highly regulated venue and since we were going to be seeing the launch with roughly sixty zillion other lucky ticket holders, we had to be at the Space Center early. How early?

Midnight.

Wait. Let me say that again. MIDNIGHT!
With a FOUR YEAR OLD!

But wait, there’s more. The hotel we were staying at. Yah, that’s an hour away.

So, I’d be pulling my son, a few hours after arriving in Orlando, out of his soft and comfy bed and packing him into the car to drive, park and then wait for six hours. This would be tough on me but I was afraid that it was going to be brutal on him. What I needed to figure out was how to stuff an Ace up my sleeve.

My horror image was of the two of us, standing out in the dark field that’s used for viewing with several hours to go and him melting down because, well… he’s a little kid, tired and without a safe and comfortable place to try and get some sweet, sweet sleep. I needed to bring my own home base. With only a few days to go before launch, I started looking around on Amazon.com and found my solution.

Rush delivery?
“Oh, yes! Please!”

Two days later, my brand new, super cheap, one-man tent arrived.

In its traveling sleeve, it looks almost identical to one of those collapsible fabric and fiberglass pole traveling chairs that you see everywhere. My sincere hope was that if I could get it in, and if I could find a place to set it up and if I wasn’t discovered by a disapproving security-type individual, then perhaps I might be able to avoid my vision of parental doom.

That’s a lot of “if’s”.

Here’s hoping.
Hey? Was I the guy bashing hope just a while ago? I take it back.

I hope! I hope! I hope!

Quasi-happily, I did find out (yet again through Facebook) that tents were sometimes allowed on the Causeway, but no one seemed to know if that would fly at the actual Space Center. It would be, after all, on manicured grounds filled with spectators and exhibits. Kind of like going to an outdoor symphony and setting up camp amongst the other attendees, but in my case, the orchestra would be igniting with over seven million tons of thrust. The Boston Pops might be good, but they aren’t that good.

In some weird way, I actually didn’t want to probe this too deeply. After all, If I couldn’t find a quick “no” to my tent idea, I could possibly beg ignorance and not purer my self. I try very hard not to lie, but there’s not reason I should make a Herculean effort to actually hang my self, right? No harm, no foul! Right?

When the tent arrived the day before we left, I set it up in the front yard to test it out. The consensus? It was cheap. Very, very cheap. In fact, it used something that I thought had died out years ago with innovations to tent technology. guy wires. Two, big segmented poles were used to give it its basic form, but it used actual tent stakes and wires to hold it out to its full length. Still, it was serviceable, relatively smuggable and I thought it would do in a pinch, provided that some poor soul didn’t do an unanticipated forward somersault in the predawn dark. Possibly me. I packed it into the bottom of my suitcase and made ready to head for adventure with my boy.

“Do you really think they’ll let you set it up?” My wife looked at me with a face that managed to appear both sincere and incredulous all at once. I have no idea how she does this.

“Well, I think so.”

“You think so? But you don’t know?” Her eyebrow arched and the arms crossed. Uh-oh.

Must… not… fidget… uncomfortably! At times like this, I have found that the best course of action is to blame others. Not the moral high ground, perhaps, but it seems to work more than it doesn’t. I’m willing to bet that I’m not the first male to use this method of redirecting a womanly gaze of scorn. That, and with its use, I would still be able to pass a polygraph test. “I can’t seem to get a straight answer about that.” I used my very best professorial tone in an effort to add credibility to my words. “Some people said that it would be okay at the Causeway, but I can’t find anything about the Space Center, either way.” I didn’t mention that I hadn’t looked super duper hard to find that information. Again, I wanted to be able to use the Idiot Defense if cornered later on.

“So, what’s your plan then?” This was a test, and I knew it. I’ve been around the block enough times to avoid this one.

My “plan” was the one that so many men had used before me. It’s been in use for millennia and it’s driven wives and girlfriends bonkers, probably since the beginning. I don’t know what they called it before the invention of American Football, but here and now, we have a name for it. It’s called punting. For anyone unfamiliar with this term, I’ll make it brief. Punting is when you kick the holy hell out of the ball and pray that things go your way. It is the ultimate non-plan.

If it were just me who was going, that would be fine with her. She’s traveled with me quite a lot and is actually very good at shooting from the hip when it comes to fluid situations. The difference here was that it wasn’t just me. I would have our very best son with me (actually, our only one, so it’s sort of de facto, but true none the less) and his care was the most important thing. I needed something better to say than, “I dunno. I’ll make it up as I go.”

“Oh, I suppose we could sleep in the car. That would be warm and safe.” To be honest here, I seriously doubted that this would work. I was pretty sure that we’d have to leave our vehicle and would not be allowed back out unless we were willing to abandon our admittance to the grounds. Wisely and weasely, I omitted that part and let her mull it over. I’m not proud of that, but what was the point of panicking her at this point in the game? She could probably see right though me, but if she did, she didn’t let on.

“Alright. Just take care of our boy.” Whether or not she bought it, I don’t know. What I do know is that she helped me pack up our provisions until the suitcase bulged to comical proportions. The next day was the day before our flight and we had birthday and Easter to attend to. With the last few hours rolling by at amazing speed, I started to get that sinking feeling I always do before a trip.

What was I forgetting? Was I forgetting something? I don’t think I’m forgetting anything. Am I?

Heading out…

Well all, tomorrow’s the big day. I’ll be leaving with Short Stack for a while in the hopes of seeing the Shuttle launch on Monday at 6:22 AM.

Wish me luck with the airports, the rental cars, the hotel and keeping a four year old up all night long for three minutes worth of, “Wow!” Here’s hoping!

Naturally, I’ll be writing more later. Hopefully, I’ll even get a chance while I’m there. That’s assuming that I don’t fall asleep too while he’s napping.

AND, WE’RE OFF!!!

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