Arrival, Part III

The tricky bit about going to some place like the Kennedy Space Center, is that they rarely if ever have a street number. Heck, if they’re big enough, they often are on their own special street purpose built just for them and these places pretty much universally are without signage. It would be like saying, “What’s the Pentagon’s address?” I’m willing to guess that if you wrote, “The Pentagon, Arlington, Virginia” on an envelope and put it in the mail, not only would your letter there with no issues but you’d also get your very own little file with your own name on it in the very same building. It’s huge. Far larger than any puny little street sign or set of brass plated number that they might put out front. The thinking goes that if you can’t seem to take notice of the massive complex to your left, than a small green sign on a post isn’t going to help you either, and this I believe, it true. The trouble comes when you inject a computer into the equation. They want specifics.

If the Space Center has a driveway address, then I couldn’t find it.

What I had settled for was punching in “Titusville, Florida” into the screen and then selecting the button marked, “City Center.” My hope was that with NASA being kind of a big deal with the locals that once there, I could revert to my eyes and brain method of navigation, hopefully without a hilarious-in–retrospect sort of outcome. My worry now was just where in Titusville was the city center versus the place we needed to be. I continued to watch the GPS and follow its direction, but I began to talk back it with the same strange hope that inhabits the minds of sports fans as they watch the game on their TV. Maybe, if I tried hard enough, I could get it to listen to my concerns.

“Turn left onto Route 95 North”

“Really? Are you sure about that? The road sign says that I should keep going strait.”

“Exit right in one hundred yards.”

“I don’t know Erma. (I had named the female voice in the little black box Erma since I felt that I needed something to call her) I think you might be wrong on this one.”

“Exit in fifty yards.”

“I don’t know…”

“Turn now onto Route 95.”

One last thought of independence went flitting through my head like a moth as the exit opened wide to my right, leading to its own dark and unknown path. It was decision time. Who’s smarter: Erma or me?

The triangle of grass delineating the end of the exit ramp came rushing on at highway speed.

“Gah! Alright! Fine!”

A heavier than normal deceleration and swerve quickly followed.

“Who are you talking to Daddy?”

“Ummm. The GPS.”

Then a pause from the back seat. “Can it hear you?”

I shifted a little in my seat.

“Eh, no. Not actually.”

“Then why…”

“Hey Buddy! Look… um… There are some…” I groped for a distraction worthy point of interest in our dark surroundings. Anything to save face for being caught acting like a nimrod by arguing with an inanimate object. “That sign says that we’re almost there!”

And to make matters even better, it was the truth.

As I gazed at the signs telling me that I was indeed approaching the Space Coast, my confidence in Erma renewed and I once again realized that betting against myself was almost always the safe money. In this case I was happy to be wrong. After pulling off the highway and into the more populated areas, signs came with more and more frequency and eventually I was able to thank Erma for all her help before yanking the plug and unceremoniously stuffing her under the driver’s seat. To my right, behind some trees and an embankment, massive shapes suddenly loomed up against the darkness, pointing rigidly as if to indicate there intended destination. They were rockets. Real rockets.

“Hey Short Stack. Look over there. What do you think those are?”

Spotting things that I point out as we drive along is not his strong suit and I looked in the rearview mirror to see if he was awake enough to take direction.

“What? Were? Where are you point…” Silence. Then. “ROCKETS! Those are ROCKETS!” Any of the remaining brain fuzz affecting his performance was burned out of his cranial clockwork with the fire of a freshly lit J-2 hydrogen engine. I heard the seat belts strain against his body as he strained forward in his chair.

“DADDY! Those are ROCKETS! Right THERE! Can we go see them?!?!”

“You bet, Buddy!” The blast wave of pure joy and excitement that erupted from the back seat ripped through the fatigue that had started to pull me down and there was no way I could not join in with my son. I laughed out loud, sharing in the experience of a passion that was to be imminently fulfilled. That jolt was more than sufficient to have us back up at full power and ready for anything.

Pulling into the drive that lead to the vast parking lots, I reached down and jammed the special parking placard that had come with our tickets for the launch. We were waved into our directed parking area and I looked around to get my bearings. I’d need to find this car again in about six or seven hours but things would look substantially different by then. I gazed up at the massive lot identification pole marked that we were only a few rows away from.

As I scanned across the giant plateau of paved and neatly lined parking lots, I spotted another pole not too far away emblazoned with a Number five and the name Wally Schirra below. Number three, in the distance, was too far away to read, but I bet I knew what it was. Each lot, it seemed, was named for one of the original Mercury astronauts and emboldened with knowledge of these men via a recent viewing of the movie, The Right Stuff, I was tempted to point this out to Short Stack.

But he was four and it was midnight. Once again I felt a bit like the bad parent for dragging my very little boy out at such a ridiculous hour. The fact that he was still dressed in his jammies and had remained barefoot didn’t help ease my mind either. Then I spotted the car next to us and the young couple who had just arrived seconds after we had. They were here to enjoy the launch and so were both their small children, one of whom couldn’t have been possibly more than two. It was then that I realized we were in good company and it was time to get ready.

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Arrival, Part II

As the robotic female voice clipped efficient driving instructions from the little moving map suctioned to the dashboard, I fumbled with the radio in the hopes of possibly finding a bit of classical that might lull my boy back to sleep. Just because I had to be bright tailed and bushy eyed for the foreseeable future didn’t mean that he couldn’t take advantage of the car trip and get a little more rest. This however, was my point of view and though Short Stack might be able to understand the opportunity, bringing it to his attention served little purpose. There was a good reason for that.

My wife, if not a night person, is at least and evening lover and she can easily stay up until eleven or so with little effort. I, on the other hand, am a certified, dyed in the feathers, night owl and have been since… well, I was Short Stack’s age. If allowed to keep to my own schedule, I will happily stay up until some time around two AM or so and then somehow, after a few hours sleep, manage to crawl back out from under the covers at a still respectable eight o’clock.. I might try to shoehorn in a ten or fifteen minute power nap in there someplace to avoid nodding off unintentionally at an inopportune moment… such as when I’m running machinery at high RPM, but on the whole, I’m happiest to work on projects when it’s dark out and tend to get the lion’s share of my stuff done when most of my contemporaries are either asleep or watching Letterman through three quarters closed eyes. This would all be fine if the world let you keep the schedule that your body and brain was inclined to, but sadly, it rarely does. There are pre-set times when certain things must be done and that means that I first must convince my late night son to just lay down and TRY and fall asleep and then a few hours later, do the whole thing over again on my self. I just try not to put us as much of a fuss and I can easier tell if I’m lying about actually having to go pee again.

My son has completely inherited this nocturnal gene of mine and now I’m forced to choose between being the stern parent enforcer who demands that he go to bed since it’s already two hours past bedtime or simply cave in and let him stay up and continue to play quietly since I know that, truthfully, he really isn’t tired in the slightest.

I know this.

I’m not either.

Now, as we rocketed down the Florida Interstate system with a sigh of relief and a heady sense of mission, I happily put the lit up sprawl of Entertainmentville behind us. I eventually gave up on scanning the unfamiliar radio frequencies since it appeared to be an split between country music and tent revival style preaching, neither of which is my particular cup of tea. Instead, to keep my mind occupied, I started watching the clock, averaging my best, “pretty unlikely to be pulled over” speed and tried to work out our arrival time. If things went as they should, we would be pulling in just at the appointed moment. This naturally got me nervous. With any possible time buffer we could have had, taken up with actual sleeping, it was exactly the sort of thing that Murphy’s law loves to have for a delightful little snack.

“Dad?”

“Yah, buddy? What do you need?”

I was living in fear of another unscheduled pee break since pulling over on a Florida highway at night boasted not only vicious mosquitoes and chiggers but the ever present possibility of the random seven foot long alligator looking for a little something extra to go with his road kill platter.

“What are… um… What…” Words were still coming slowly and quietly, but I could sense that he was coming around to the coherent world., even if it was only at a minimum power setting. “What are they doing with the Space Shuttle now? Is it ready to launch?”

“Yah. It’s just about ready to go.” I scratched around in my head, trying to remember what I had read and seen about the preflight routine for a Shuttle launch and did my best with what I had. If he was going to be awake for the trip, as it now seemed to be, at least I’d have a chatting companion, even if the conversation was bound to be one subject deep only. “Well, I’d guess that the astronauts are awake and getting ready for the launch too. They’re having breakfast, getting dressed in their orange launch suits and will be soon be getting driven to the Shuttle and made ready for lift off in just a little while.” In truth, I didn’t know what the schedule was, but it seemed like a good guess.

He mulled this for a few minutes as we bumped along at the regular intervals of each pad of concrete.

“What are they having for breakfast?” This is exactly the kind of question my kid would think of and I liked the fact that he was curious about both what was going in to the Shuttle’s and astronaut’s respective fuel tanks.

“Hmmm… I don’t know. What ever they want I guess”

I wasn’t sure, but I sort of hoped that if you were a professional astronaut and about to ride a controlled explosion all the way into low earth orbit on a multi-multi billion dollar rocket, that the least NASA could do was splurge and get these incredibly brave folks what ever they fancied to start their day. It seems like the least that we could do.

Much of the rest of the ride went by quietly and from time to time I’d look back in the rear view mirror to see if my boy had finally nodded off during a long silent spell.

He hadn’t.

No surprise there.

The roads were black and sparsely dotted with the red tail lights of fellow travelers. In the quiet of the car, a nagging doubt had started to coalesce on the inside back of my skull and as its grip got firmer and firmer on my brain stem, I began to pay more attention to the road signs that blasted by in the glare of my rented headlights. I had started to doubt my digital navigator.

GPS’s are amazing tools I’ll grant you that I loved to fiddle with them when a friend happened to have one. I thought they were kind of neat, in roughly the same way I thought salad spinners were neat. They did a job, but they still seemed sort of silly to actually own. When it came to driving, I tended to be a luddite. I liked maps. I liked road signs. I liked not having to use batteries or plugs when I wanted to find out where I was. I love technology but really, I like to be able to do things my self. This trip though, had gotten me to choke back my caveman-like attitude and embrace change. When I had factored in my young traveling companion, our tight time schedule and driving unknown roads for unknown distances to unknown exit ramps, I realized that the safe money was on having a navigator to assist me, electronic or not. So, it was with hat and hand that I had visited my neighbors whom I knew were the owners of just such a magical device. I had knocked on the door and, after they had finished spinning dry the freshly washed spinach leaves that would be part of their dinner, happily entrusted me with their GPS. I had thanked them, packed it in our luggage and once we had arrived, used it happily. What I hadn’t done, naturally, was read the manual.

I am still part caveman, after all.

The system is down… ugh.

Just a quick post to let you all know that I’m not tied to a tree or something.

My computer, the one with all the writing on it, is dead, dead, dead and I’m going to have to do some work to get back everything that I wrote but haven’t posted yet. I’ve got the next bit pretty much all done. I just need to get my laptop breathing again to get at it.

Sorry for the wait!

-TP

Epilogue:

I have now gone and bought a brand new laptop, sucked the old hard drive dry and stuffed it all onto the new one. That was WAY the heck too much to have to do… but now it’s done at least. Phew. Now back to the story already in progress… 🙂

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