A Carnival Magic Cruise Review

On our last cruise, somewhere in the Caribbean, the wife and I met with the Future Cruise guy, and signed up to sail on the Carnival Magic during Spring Break in 2017, from April 8-15th. If you were on that one, write a comment.

So on Friday the 7th we began our arduous journey to Port Canaveral. The first thing you have to know about driving from South Carolina to Florida during spring break is, it sucks. There’s just no way around it. Our state pays the lowest gas tax in the nation (so I’ve heard) and as such there is little money to fix and improve roads. Although I-95 in Georgia and Florida are three lanes the whole way, in South Carolina: they’re only 2. It’s not a terrible route until you get south of the I-95/I-26 intersection, then it slows down sometimes to a crawl. We made it through, even after the WAZE app tried to get me to get off and go around, and, like water through a fire hose, got squirted out into the relatively wide open space that is Georgia.

Georgia is pretty, but boring. You’re almost within sight of the ocean for a lot of the drive, and it’s all marshland and lazy rivers, with few opportunities to get off the interstate for food and gas. But finally you go over one last bridge and you’re in Florida. We stopped in Jacksonville for the night and stayed with some relatives, then it was up the next day for the 2.5 hour drive to Port Canaveral.

Port Canaveral is my absolute favorite of all the ports I’ve been to. Charleston is convenient, but because it’s downtown you have to deal with traffic. Miami sucks. There’s no organization at the port, it’s like a free-for-all, and I-95 ends in downtown Miami, so you have to deal with confusing directions and getting across traffic through 4 or 5 lanes to make right and left turns several times before hopefully getting the right terminal, because Miami terminal is huge. Plus there’s the depressing GPS that says, “Take I-95 south for 500 miles, then keep right.” NO! Port Lauderdale is just about as bad distance-wise, but at least it’s organized.

But Canaveral is a thing of beauty. First it is out in the middle of no-damn-where. Since apparently space isn’t important anymore there’s not a lot of traffic around the cape. You get off I-95 and go east along a 4 lane causeway, get to the terminal which only holds two or three ships, and they have actual traffic cops to get you a spot with the porters right by the door. Then you park across the street using pre-paid parking, and walk right in. We always try to get to the port an hour after they start letting you on. Usually the lines are down a bit and there’s not much of a wait. This time there was a huge line to get into the building, but it went pretty quickly. I think half the problem was people not knowing what to do with passports and health forms.

Before they let you on the boat you have to produce your passport (or license and birth certificate), your boarding pass, and your health form. They spell all this out on the web site and even let you download and print everything before you go. Yet there’s always someone that’s missing stuff, or it’s in their bag they just gave the porter, or they have to put down everything they are carrying (because they’re trying to carry on 6 suitcases small enough to fit in the X-Ray). The most common forgotten item seems to be the Health Form.

If you’ve never cruised before, they make you promise that you’re not sick, feverish, have the runs, or are past 24 weeks pregnant. Since you probably paid $3,000 or so to get there, probably don’t have trip insurance, and if you did start feeling sick its only in the last day or two, you’re probably going to lie on the form. So we take loads of hand sanitizer. They give you the forms to print out, but there’s always a line of people at the health form table filling out their lies.

Finally through the third stage (passport check, x-ray, health forms/door keys), you’re shoved off past the photo guys and up a ramp to get onboard. This is when I start feeling good. Up until now, anything could happen. I have HUGE cruise day anxiety. From the ride there (where I could have a flat, an accident, or even some total catastrophic engine failure), to the port issues (like parking, porters, forgotten luggage), to the check-in process (did I remember the passports, the health forms, the boarding passes, and did getting gas in Florida trigger the bank to lock out my credit/debit card?), I’m always worried something bad will happen to keep me off the boat. But the moment they wave you through check-in over to the photographers, there’s a sigh of relief. It keeps getting more relaxing the whole way up the ramp, and then when you step across onto the deck, it’s all good. You’re on.

The first thing we do is check our room. It’s nice to see where you’ll be spending 7 or 8 days, drop your carry on bags, and maybe use the bathroom (especially if you just lied on the health form and you’ve got the runs). This trip, I had a surprise for the wife (not the runs). Our last cruise was on Carnival Sunshine. Every night after they finished the shows, they turned the lounge into a sort of night club by removing the tables and pushing the chairs to the side. Then they club it up until like 2am.

When I initially booked this cruise, we have a room way far forward, under the lounge. I was scared there would be a noise issue, and paid for a different room midship with a surprise – a Cove Balcony. We weren’t under the lounge, instead we were under the galley. A move we would come to regret. But the wife didn’t know about the balcony, because I kept it secret. So I opened the curtain and she was like, “whaaaaat?” Then we went upstairs to eat. Because on a cruise you have to eat at least five times a day.

The first thing we noticed over the Sunshine was this boat was a lot wider, and a deck taller. I kept trying to go to deck 9 for food during the first three days of the cruise, but on this ship Deck 10 was where they slopped us hogs. They had divided the food areas into three separate areas. Outside by the pool (yes there were already drunks and people in bikinis even though the boat hadn’t moved) was Guy’s Burger Joint and the bars. At the rear pool there was pizza and another bar. In the middle of all this was a forward buffet line and stir-fry hibachi place. Then there was a separate aft buffet line with different stuff and the Italian place. I’m not sure what it is with Carnival, but the Italian place is always staffed by Russians.

Before we left it was time for the Muster Drill. This is where they usually force you onto the utilitarian area of the deck and group you into lifeboat groups in case the boat sinks or burns up. They give you a safety demonstration with life jackets and talk about what to do in an emergency. Usually by now the alcoholics on board are already half inebriated, and some even bring drinks to the drill itself. I know it’s Carnival, sort of the Wal-Mart of cruise lines, but people, please: Try to stay reasonably sober until the drill is done. On the magic it was a bit nicer, they grouped us inside and the Cruise Director read the instructions over the intercom in a variety of vocal impressions. It was our first meeting of “Dr. E”.

He sucked. I still remember my first cruise director, a rather large stout Englishman who told some hilarious stories. Then there was a more recent one, Jamie D., who was really funny and attractive. She was American (I know right, an American staff member?). On our most recent cruise, the CD was some English or Australian woman who wasn’t great, but still memorable. This guy just sucked. He LOVED to hear himself talk and would come on the intercom and jabber on for ten minutes, not only telling you what was going on around the ship, but pushing sales of stuff in the stores, photo places, and bars. It was sort of like being trapped watching an irritating car commercial where they scream at you.

So, finally underway. I was able to locate a section on the front of the ship as near to the Titanic “King of the World” scene as they allow you to get these days. SO, If you’re on the Magic – go to deck 10 and go all the way forward until you’re looking at stateroom doors. At the end of the hall turn left or right and go out the little unmarked door with the porthole. Theres a second door at the end of the short hallway that leads to a curved balcony that anyone can use, but there’s almost NO ONE there. It runs around the entire front of the ship so if you want to look out either side you can. You can also go down a deck to 9, and stand on the roof of the bridge, on the little wings that stick out the side of the ship. Again, it’s another balcony that almost no one uses except in port. You can get some great pictures there looking off the front of the ship.

While I’m standing there looking out with a few other people, they blast the horn and we’re off. I got to watch us leave port, which was fun, and within ten minutes the pilot boat was gone and we were out in the ocean. There’s a beach right next to the terminal, and people were screaming and waving at us. It was impressive, more like the “Old Movie Feel” of old cruises, than the modern utilitarian Airport feeling most departures give you.

That evening, we met our tablemates. For the last three cruises we’ve wound up at tables alone. I HATE shared tables. I guess I know why the tradition persists. Boats get full, so instead of sticking three parties of three at three tables for four and having 3 empty seats total, you put the nine people together. I get that. But I hate it. I don’t like forced social situations and would prefer not to have to interact with others in that setting. The people were really nice, though. The other families were from Conway, SC and from Lexington, SC, so at least they didn’t dump us in with a bunch of foreigners or yankees or weird eaters. No one at the table was vegan or part of the gluten-free fad or anti-GMO crowd. We all liked our meat, bread and sweet tea. And even though they were from the South, no one seemed overtly religious and asked to join hands and pray or anything. I was REALLY glad for that.

Overnight, we learned the hazards of being under the galley. I noticed in the lounge that the seats and tables were bolted to the floor, so there would be no moving stuff around for a nightclub like on the Sunshine. At 2am we learned that apparently in the galley there’s a crew bowling tournament where they use beer kegs and water jugs. I also think they were forging swords on anvils up there. I can’t explain the noise any other way. I complained to the steward the next morning, but the noise continued the whole week. The future cruise guy told me the rooms under the galley are the worst on the ship for noise, and to avoid it if possible.

Our following day was a Day At Sea. Days at sea mean different things to different people. For some people it means laying out by the pool and drinking. My family is quite pale. In mid-winter we give Snow White a run for “Who’s the Fairest of them all”. For white people, we are REALLY white. We burn quite easily and thus use lots of SPF 8000 sunscreen, which keeps us white instead of red. Unfortunately it keeps us white instead of tan. But that’s okay, because I’ve “Lobsterized” myself before, and it’s no fun sleeping on your stomach on the floor with a wet towel on your back, and having someone peel crackling skin off of you. So we tend to stay inside with our whiteness for the most part, an play trivia and other games that old pale white people enjoy. We learned the “Thriller” dance from Michael Jackson’s video, but we’ve done this on three cruises now and the steps are always a bit different.

Day 2 – Dominican Republic. The wife and I had never been to the Dominican Republic. I found it interesting and pretty, and she didn’t. The first thing about the DR was it was supposed to rain. They loaded us on these Outback Adventures open-air trucks and took us to a plantation of sorts where they make chocolate and coffee, as well as grow things like plantains. It rained the whole time and we drove through a few rushing creeks to get there. The phrase “Turn Around, Don’t Drown” is apparently unknown in the Dominican Republic. Our tour guide, Yoki (pronounced like the English word “Jockey”) was very down to Earth and even said the word “shit” like 5 times. After surviving the creek crossings (made worse because of the downpour, I guess), they took us to their outpost and fed us while some ladies in Carnival (the party, not the cruise line) outfits danced for us in traditional styles. After that it was off to the beach.

I wasn’t a big fan of the beach in Dominica. It was on the Atlantic Side, in the middle of nowhere with no bathrooms. The beach was narrow, without much room. They provided Boogie Boards and the tour guides acted as lifeguards because apparently the currents there could get bad, and they didn’t want you going past the breakers, since the next stop on your trip would be Cuba. But Yoki showed Kaylee how to boogie-board. When it was over we went back to the boat. The countryside was interesting but typical of Caribbean islands, there was a lot of poor mixed in with the beauty. The traffic was crazy and I was convinced we were going to kill a motorbike rider before the day was done.

While in Dominica I bought a bottle of wine and a bottle of Pineapple Liqueur. When we got back to the boat, of course we had to go through x-ray and they pointed me towards the Liquor Nazi. Cruise ships don’t want you bringing liquor on board, because they way overcharge for drinks and they want to profit off of that. They also want to control how much you can drink, so they like knowing if you’re acting like a drunken fool, they can cut you off. They will confiscate your booze and then return it to you the last night of the voyage. So, I have come up with a few ways of sneaking my booze past the booze Nazi. They involve subterfuge and misdirection, much in the same way a magician pulls a quarter from behind your ear. No, I won’t reveal my methods here. I’m sorry, but I need to keep them to myself in case they become enough of a practice that the booze nazis figure it out. It was a relief to get past the crew and hide my liquor in the stateroom. If you do sneak liquor on board, hide it in a closed suitcase or backpack. If you leave it in the open, they WILL take it. But, if it disappears from a closed suitcase, you know the steward has been going through your stuff instead of just cleaning, and you’ve got a heck of a complaint on them.

It’s always a bit of a relief to get back on the boat after an excursion. I have a fear of something happening and the boat leaving us behind. I went out to the balcony when it was time to leave. A young woman about six balconies aft of me stuck her head out as the thrusters came on and we started moving. She looked at me and yelled, “Are we LEAVING?” in a very frightened voice. I said yes and she ducked back in saying “Oh my GOD!” I really would like to know the story behind that. I’m assuming maybe she had a cabin for one after we left Dominica?

That night was “Formal Night”. Formal night is optional, but if you want to eat the the main dining room, you are supposed to dress up. Despite my protestations to the contrary, my wife strongly urged me to wear a suit jacket. A lot of men have dumped the jacket and just wear a button up shirt and tie with some slacks. Formal today just doesn’t mean what it used to, thank goodness. I tried to get the wife to save some packing room and dump the suit for a nice button up shirt, tie, and slacks, but she would have none of that. We took a few awful pictures after dinner, and went straight to one of the shows. I REALLY like the Magic’s theater over the Sunshine’s. It’s a large theater, and unlike on the Sunshine, you don’t have to show up 30 minutes early just to get a seat. Even during the show I noticed a lot of empty seats.

The next day, we rolled into St. Thomas. We’ve been there a few times, and it’s always nice. We lined up right on the pier and got on a ship to St. John. The wife hated it. This trip was pretty turbulent on the water, and the little boat was no exception. She wound up moving to the back of the boat at the Captain’s suggestion, and felt much better back there. St. Thomas was also considered a US territory, and AT&T worked there, so I got to catch up on both e-mails from work AND facebook. Time to send pictures and make the people at home jealous.

Once on St. John, they took us to Trunk Bay, considered one of the top ten beaches in the world. I’m not sure why. Yes, it was pretty, but the beach was also sort of narrow without a lot of shade unless you went into the trees off the beach. The facilities were okay (it had a small beach bar and place to get a drink), but not overwhelming. I liked it, and would go back, but I’m not sure why it’s one of the top 10 in the world. We snorkled a bit but the current kept pushing us to one side, between a small island and the main island. The small island was only 100 yards away or so, but they didn’t want anyone going to it and kept fussing at people.

When it was time to go I put on my purple shirt with the Flying Spaghetti Monster logo on it, and while I was turning my snorkel in, a man said, “May you be blessed by His Noodly Appendage”. I was shocked and felt relief that I had met a like-minded soul. R’amen.

The trip back to St. Thomas was uneventful as well, although the seats in the back filled up and the wife had to sit by herself again. We walked right off the little boat, across the pier and onto the big boat. Safe onboard, it was time to eat. No formal night tonight, just unlimited bread in a box.

The following morning we rolled into San Juan, and I really do mean rolled. The waves were pretty steady at 4-5 feet. Every now and then the boat would shudder as we hit one just right. The wife would ask “What was that?” and I’d say, “We hit another whale”. We were late getting into San Juan and parked at a difference place than normal, because apparently someone climbed the fence and was messing around at the main terminal overnight, so they had to move us. We parked right next to the Norwegian Gem, which was pretty impressive. The piers look pretty wide most of the time, but with that other boat parked next to us, it looked like a narrow back alley.

We filed out of the ship after the main crowd got off, and walked around old San Juan on our own. San Juan is somewhere you really don’t need to pay for exorbitant excursions. Everything to see in Old Town is within walking distance of the ship. Theres an old fort (San Christobal), although El Morro on the point is nicer, you can get a taxi and do a walking tour in about an hour. Colon’ plaza is right up the hill from the boat, as well as old city hall, some really old church, and if you walk the other way (east) there’s the capitol building and a long display of bronze statues of US Presidents. There’s plenty of vendors selling counterfeit merchandise and lots of little places to eat. There’s also Starbucks.

The rain was coming, so we didn’t stay in San Juan very long. I’ve been here five times and haven’t gotten a geocache yet. Next time, damnit. Next time. We were back on the boat before the mad rush and watched the rain roll in while we played trivia.

Our last stop was Grand Turk. We were late getting there because some idiot decided to sink their sailboat in 7-8 foot seas, and had washed up on a little island in shallow water. Our boat had to head that way in case they needed rescuing, but the water was too shallow for the cruise ship and we just hung out until the Coast Guard arrived to help them out. Grand Turk is a nice place, Carnival owns the port and there’s only room for two ships. When we arrived there was a Norwegian CL ship next to us, but they were going to leave first. We got off the boat and looked around in the little shops. They have a fenced-off area with chain stores like Del Sol, Margaritaville, Diamonds International, and all the standard big name cruise shops that they try and get you to hit up in ports. The locals can’t go in this area and harass the cruise ship passenger to buy crafts and hock tours and hair braiding, so it’s nice. There are two beaches with free umbrellas and chairs and such. They have greatly increased the amount of stuff available.

Once we had looked at the overpriced cruise wares in the shops, we went back to the boat, changed, and went back out to the beaches. We tried the area to the right of the pier first because it was less crowded. We found out why really quickly. There is a rocky reef that’s hard to walk over, and keeps you from getting to the swimming area. If you just want to lay in the sun or under an umbrella, this is the side you want. So we moved to the other side where there are few rocks and you can actually swim. After about an hour in the semi-cool water, we were ready to get out, tired and hungry. We boarded the ship quickly because we didn’t wait until the last minute, and watched Grand Turk disappear into the distance.

The last Sea Day is always both relaxing and disappointing. There are no more islands to look forward to, just getting home. Then there is the repacking and all the last evening. It was very bumpy and windy. They shut down the ropes course, so the daughter and I never got to do that. Rain and wind killed the pool deck, so everyone came inside. The biggest indoor game draw of the week seemed to be the Friends and Harry Potter trivia games, we had the whole deck 5 plaza full of people. There was a side door that people kept coming in, and with 40mph winds blowing across the plaza inside the ship every time it happened, the crew finally turned the door off and blocked it. We played a little of the slots in the “Cancer Club Casino”. I’m sort of glad they allow smoking in there, because I might spend more money if I didn’t worry so much about hacking up a lung on the trip home. I lost $10.

We have learned to pack light and carry off our own stuff. On our first cruise we have about five bags for me and the wife. Now we are down to a bag each for the wife, daughter and I, plus a backpack for me and the wife.  That’s pretty much it. The schedule on the paper they gave us said our “zone” would be released about 1030am. BUT if we wanted to carry off our own stuff, we could leave at about 8:00. They were even faster than they estimated, and we were off the boat in the car before 8:00am. It was a whizz getting through customs and out the terminal.

My only concern was the coffee. You’re not supposed to bring back plant and animal products without declaring them. There’s some huge fine and penalties if you don’t, and there are certain things you can’t bring back at all. I bought the wife Roses once on an anniversary cruise. Even though they put them on the ship in Florida, and they never left the ship, I couldn’t bring them back into the US and we had to dump them in the trash. So here I am bringing foreign coffee into the country. The customs guy didn’t even look twice at the declaration form. He took it from me, put it in a pile, and looked at our passports. That was it. You used to have to meet with the customs agents before getting off the ship, but they don’t do that any more.

The worst part of the trip? The drive home. If you thought driving SOUTH on 95 was bad, drive north into South Carolina during the end of spring break. Not only do you have all the cruise and Disney people going home. All the old people and northerners wintering in Florida are clogging the freeway since Spring has sprung. I swear every other license plate was new york/new jersey. We got near the Georgia/South Carolina border and WAZE told me to get off. We took a scenic tour of the SC Low Country and passed a Welcome to South Carolina sign in the middle of a swamp, but we skipped a lot of the worst part of the interstate. We got home two hours later than WAZE predicted, but we did skip traffic and stop to eat at Tijuana Flats.

If you don’t have the WAZE app – get it. WAZE is a user-fed GPS/Traffic program. It works like a normal GPS, telling you how to get places. But it knows where other users are along the route and how the traffic is moving. It uses that information, as well as user-inputs like construction zones, accidents, and stopped traffic, to automatically reroute you. You can add stuff as you go along, such as police (hidden or visible), objects in the road, vehicles on the shoulder, roadkill, bad potholes, etc., all with safety in mind. The app will warn you when you are approaching these things, and you can confirm they are there or you can say they are gone. It’s a really helpful and fun app, just don’t try putting in roadkill while you’re doing 80 on someone’s bumper.

Oh and here’s our cruise movie:

I apologize for the bad resolution but since I use the Vimeo free side, I’m limited to 500mb movie uploads at any one time.

Bring us gifts! But only the ones on this list:

I get it, second time parents have a lot of baby shit already. Not the brown smelly kind of shit, but you know, pacifiers and diaper bags and bottles and little socks and onesies and all the other crap that goes along with having an infant. All the stuff that takes up 2/3 of the space in the car when you go on a trip somewhere foreign, like Wal-Mart. Because if you have a kid you know that at some point leaving the house required as much equipment and planning as a summit of Everest.

So, I understand that second-time parents might not need more of that stuff. What do they need? Diapers for one, because babies shit a lot. Liquor, for dad because he has to put up with another kid screaming for the next two years. Ritalin, because based on what I know of Elementary school kids, Ritalin is a LOT easier than parenting, especially when there’s two or more of them. iPads, because no one wants to share their iPad, and sometimes its hard to remember to clear the history.

So a relative of mine is having a second kid. We stopped at one, because one was the deal. No way in Hell was I going through that again. The announcements to friends and family, the buildup to the birth, the hormones, the hospital bills, the 327 doctor visits, the birth, the hospital bills, the sleepless nights, colic, illnesses, constant bottle washing, expensive formula, buying completely new wardrobes every six months…

NO! I was NOT starting over. After my kid was born I got fixed. One and Done. Best, Operation, Ever. And we had it EASY. Facebook wasn’t invented yet. Now you’re expected to chronicle every aspect of your pregnancy. Cutesy gag-me pictures of the happy parents, time lapse photos of mom standing in one spot in the same pose every week getting bigger and bigger, showing off all the baby shower goodies, the silly “hands shaped like a heart over the big belly” closeup. It just never ends. It’s hard enough being a working parent without making a constant documentary of the pregnancy.

My wife gets this party invitation the other day in the mail. I can tell its a party invitation immediately. First of all, it’s from someone we don’t know. Whenever you get a card-shaped letter in the mail from someone you don’t know or haven’t heard from in years, it’s best to just throw it away without opening it. It’s usually an invitation to something, and introverts like me prefer to avoid those things. Weddings, Funerals, College graduations, Baby and Bridal showers, stuff like that. Second, there’s this mistaken idea that lots of women have that says, “If you get an invitation to something, that means they expect you to send a gift.”

My thoughts are, if you GO, you take the gift, but surely no one expects a gift for just INVITING you? Your gift is your ticket in, and that’s it. According to my wife, that’s not how it works, “If you get an invitation, you’re supposed to send a gift.” I asked her why don’t we just start sending invitations to random people west of the Mississippi, and see what kind of gifts we get?

She fails to follow my instructions, and instead of tossing the unopened card into the burn box, she opens it. Now she’s committed. She can’t say, “I never got that card”, or “I had no idea I was missing such an important life changing event taking place on one of my only days off on the weekend.” Now we have to deal with it. Drive 45 minutes out of the way, waste several hours, and drive 45 minutes home. Yes, it’s a baby shower. But not just ANY baby shower. It’s a “Books and Diaper Party”. Remember what I said about second-time parents having all the baby stuff? Apparently they want to make sure they don’t get more of the same.

But this makes it really inconvenient on the party-goers. How do you invite someone to something but give them a shopping list? “Hey my bachelor party is next week, make sure you only bring Redheaded strippers, no blondes!”

And I know it’s not the parent’s fault, it’s the party planner’s doing. But for what she spent on the invitation, she probably could have bought a good deal of books and diapers herself. There was a fold-out die-cut diaper in three color ink, with a thin opaque paper insert with a little flower gem at the top, with a couple of different colors of ink. I want to take it down to the printers in town and say, “How much to make this?” Because I’m sure it wasn’t cheap.

But as shopping goes, books are easy. We have a kid, I’m sure we can find some old books around the house to give up. There’s also Amazon, which has some great children’s books, like

Go the F*ck to Sleep

That’s not your mommy any more: A zombie tale

K is for Knifeball – an alphabet of terrible advice

Goodnight Goon

And of course, a big box of Cloth Diapers. Because nothing says disgusting like washing poo-coated cloths in the same washer as your work clothes. Everyone you pass will be well aware you have a child at home or in the car in the mall parking lot.

One if by sea, Two if by Femur.

So last Sunday I had a pretty awesome hike. Drove up to North Carolina with a couple of good people, and walked 9 miles through snow and cool weather. Had a great supper and headed home.

Everything changed on the ride home. My daughter, who is 13, texted me about getting a skateboard from Grandpa for her birthday. I sent the following text, which turned out to be a lot more prophetic than I thought it would be.

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So just a few hours later I’m getting off the interstate on the way home and the wife calls all frantic and such. The kid broke her leg. And not just anywhere, she broke it above the knee, on the femur. By the time I got home, there was a fire truck, an ambulance, a sheriff’s deputy car, and several nosy neighbors standing around. They were working on her and trying to get her doped up and put on a stretcher.

They drove her to the hospital and we followed them, beginning a long and arduous night that wouldn’t end until about 3am. The doctors at my local hospital (most people in town have nicknamed it “The Pine Box” for a reason) decide they don’t have the facilities to treat her, and want to transfer her out to another place that can take care of her. So at around 1:30 in the morning we head to Columbia, SC. My wife rides in that ambulance, and I follow along the interstate.

This is after having 3 hours sleep the night before, and hiking all day. So by now I’m pretty tired and seeing things and I’m REALLY glad it’s 2 in the morning because if there was heavy traffic I’d be playing bumper cars.

I get to the good hospital, and have to go in through the emergency room entrance, which seems to be a homeless shelter of sorts. Security is finally convinced I belong there, and they lead me all the way across the complex to the children’s wing. The on-call guy comes in and tells us she’s getting a titanium rod in her leg, to help fix the bone in place and heal the leg up.

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Bob the therapy dog stops by.

She decides at this point that her skateboarding career is over. A fitful three hours later they come drag her off to surgery. The doctors and nurses at Palmetto Health Richland were just great. They treated us like one expects to be treated at a hospital. The fluids never ran out (which often leads to an incessant beeping noise in the machine), she never wanted for anything, and when you called them, they were there in a minute or two.

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Kind of an odd piece of art for a Children’s Hospital, but funny.

We stayed until Thursday afternoon, and came home with a brand new walker (yay, it’s like hospital Christmas), a chair with a built in potty seat (not yay), and a rental wheelchair. However, the way insurance works, we have to return the wheelchair, but we own the leg attachments, the seat cushion, and the anti-tip bars on the back of the thing. Really strange.

Friday morning we get the bill from the Ambulance ride. Medical people are nothing if not efficient.

 

Yee Haw, we’re going to Nashville!

 

 

 

 

 

Not because we wanted to, of course. Kaylee happened to be in Beta Club this year, and unlike when I was in Beta Club in school, her group actually did stuff. I remember getting my little certificate and pin and that was about it. Now they do meetings and competitions and stuff. Their group won “Quiz Bowl” for my state, and qualified to go to Nationals, which was in Tennessee.

I’ve been to Tennessee before, most recently to Gatlinburg, which I don’t care to go back to, either, unless there’s more Moonshine tasting involved. Without Moonshine, Gatlinburg is a pretty dull place. I wouldn’t mind hiking through it, but staying there…no.

Nashville held little appeal to me. Sure, its the home of Country Music, but I don’t like country music. Still, it was an important trip for Kaylee and we couldn’t say no. On Thursday June 25 we stopped at the Welcome Center along I-40 and waved goodbye to North Carolina.

I tried briefly stopping at the border for a visit to the Appalachian Trail. All I could find was a white blaze on the underside of the I-40 overpass. That’s as close to the AT as I have been in a while, so I’ll have to let that one go until September.
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Seriously, the biggest Handicapped spot I’ve ever seen.

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One of our first places to visit in Nashville was the Opryland Mall behind the Gaylord Opryland resort, where this Beta Club thing was being held. I recently discovered Starbucks and their delicious Chai Lattes. I had to stop for one.

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Not a Starbucks brand:

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Outside the Grand Old Opry itself.

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We visited the inside of the Gaylord Opryland Hotel and convention center. Its a beautiful place, worth staying at (we stayed up the street) just for the views inside.
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Competition day began with breakfast at the most interesting McDonald’s I’ve ever seen. There was all sorts of vintage radio and music stuff. It was part fast food, part museum. There was even an antenna tower on the roof with WMAC letters. Pretty nice theming for Nashville.

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After Kaylee’s team took their written test, we headed into downtown Nashville to try and see the sights. Of course there was a Hard Rock and Margaritaville. Because when I think Hard Rock and Margaritas, I think downtown Nashville.
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Down the street from “Honky Tonk Row” was the Walk of Fame for country music stars.
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Of course – we had to take the bus through some of the awful traffic and walk a couple of blocks to see the TN state capitol. The former hot weather was quickly turning cool, and when we hit the open hill by the statehouse, we saw why. A line of terrible blustery thunderstorms from hell was heading our way.

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Back downtown waiting on the bus, I came across the AT&T building. All it needs between the poles is Sauron’s Eye from the Lord of the Rings movies.
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Who doesn’t like to pose with a Giant Moonshine Jug – with the cops right next to it. Sort of killed the photo, Roscoe P Coltrane. IMG_0446

 

Speaking of Roscoe – we had time to hit Cooter’s Museum and store the following morning. Unfortunately, Kaylee’s team was not one of the top 8, and they didn’t qualify for the Quiz Bowl Tournament on site. So, we had to find something to do since the hotel was paid up until Sunday. Cooter was the tow driver on the Dukes of Hazard TV show in the 70s. As a former fan of the show as a kid, it was interesting to go in and see all the stuff they had from the show. IMG_0447 IMG_0448

The Duke Boy’s Car. And before people start licking glass and getting their panties in wads over the flag: Look. Stop it. It was a TV prop from the 70s. I don’t remember it as a racial thing. I don’t recall a single episode where Bo and Luke attended a Klan rally or beat up a black guy. They were a couple of troublesome young adults trying to get away from a goofy sheriff and a corrupt town manager who was always trying to take their uncle’s land. Sure, the uncle happened to run moonshine, which may have had something to do with their law enforcement troubles. So if you’re offended by the car, talk to the people who wrote the series in 1975.

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Daisy’s jeep. This was the jeep of the woman who INVENTED “Daisy Dukes”. If you’re into short shorts, thank Katherine Bach. And the producers of the show…

Leaving Cooter’s, we headed to Kentucky, home of Bluegrass, race horses, and Bourbon. Also Abraham Lincoln. I’ve never been to Kentucky, but I’m sure going to go back. It was a fun, beautiful place.
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On the way through Kentucky we stopped at Lincoln’s Boyhood home. The driveway and such were being refurbished, so this is as close as I could get, but still, to see Honest Abe’s boyhood house was pretty impressive. IMG_0454

After Lincoln, we hit the Maker’s Mark Distillery, for a tour that Angie said made us “Parents of the Year”. Kaylee got in Free, so I think that says something for them. The lines were really long, and it took us about 45 minutes to get started on a tour. IMG_0458

 

 

No cell phone service, but the liquor place had free WiFi!IMG_0459

Kaylee doesn’t like the smell of Mash in the air. Distillery Selfie! IMG_0460 Our friendly distillery guide, Ashley, showed us around. We saw the top of the still (most of it was in the basement), the corn grinders, and the mash tun for cooking the mash before fermentation. IMG_0461 The top of the still column. IMG_0464 Mash Tuns for cooking the corn/rye mix. IMG_0465 Fermentation tanks. This was pretty neat, they let us taste from the tanks themselves. The first was like a sweet cereal like an oatmeal. The second which was two days old tasked like a flat beer, and the last one which was three days old tasted like a bad wine. It was hot and smelled very strong in this room. This was just the tops of 8 vats which were at least twenty feet tall. We just happened to be on the second floor. IMG_0467 Their printing/cutting press from the 1930s for stamping out labels. IMG_0468 CSI: Kentucky. Maker’s Mark’s quality control lab. IMG_0470 IMG_0471 Where the magic comes together with glass. The bottling line. IMG_0472 IMG_0483 After bottling, TASTING. Makers white had a very strong corn flavor, a lot like moonshine. Not aged at all, just bottled right from the still. Maker’s 46 was very nice, put into special barrels for the last three months. Very smooth compared to their standard fare. I bought a bottle of Cask Strength, which comes out the barrel and right into the bottle without being diluted. Mine is 113 proof. IMG_0484 IMG_0485 IMG_0486 Their special Chihuly glass artwork in the barrel room right before the gift shop, “Spirit of the Maker”IMG_0488 IMG_0491

Leaving the whiskey distillery, we stopped at the Toll Gate Cafe, the only place to eat for miles. Not bad. IMG_0493 IMG_0494 IMG_0497 IMG_0498 IMG_0499 IMG_0500 IMG_0501 After getting back toward the interstate, we went through a little town near where Lincoln grew up, and then on to his Birthplace Memorial, a National Park. IMG_0504 IMG_0505 IMG_0508 IMG_0509 IMG_0511 IMG_0513

 

Thanks to Maker’s Mark being overly busy, and the stop at Lincoln’s Birthplace, we were too late to take the boat ride underground at the Lost River Cave and Valley site, but we did go gem mining for rocks. I like the ones in North Carolina a lot better. We walked a nature trail and saw a butterfly house and a natural spring. IMG_0517 IMG_0519 IMG_0520 IMG_0522 IMG_0524 IMG_0525 IMG_0527 IMG_0528 IMG_0529 IMG_0530 IMG_0532

That night we got back and had dinner at John A’s, a local restaurant/bar with a stage. There was live music when we arrived, and while we were there, two singers from the Grand Old Opry happened by and sang a few songs. I’m not into Country Music, but it was still interesting seeing people that actually sing at the Opry.

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Next time: Backpacking. I’m still putting together Cruise photos and video, its hard to Corrall 600 photos.

We’re going to Sea World – after punching someone in the nose.

I went to a class today and among some of the topics discussed was school violence. The instructor has a real dislike for “zero tolerance” policies, with good reason. It eliminates a lot of effort and responsibility on the school administration, and subjects kids who were simply defending themselves or others.

So he told us this story about his own child:

He was called to the school one day around noon on a Wednesday, and his nine year old was sitting in the Principal’s office. The principal tells him that his son was in a fight and was getting suspended.

“What happened?” he asked. It turns out a bully was picking on a smaller child with learning disabilities, and his son tried to stop the bully. There was a shove or two and his son, also smaller than the bully, punched the bully in the nose, ending the fight and causing a nosebleed.

“I understand that you have to do what you have to do. How long is he suspended?” Dad asks.

“Three days,” the principal says, “but we’ll send his homework and assignments home so he can keep up with his classwork while he is at home.”

And that’s when dad turns it completely around and shuts down the principal with, “Thank you for your help, sir, but my kid won’t have time for that. My kid protected some poor child, put himself in harms way, and stood up for himself and others. We won’t have time for any homework, because we’re going to Sea World over this long weekend you’ve given us.”

And that’s what they did.

And he explained further:

People get taught that violence is bad. Violence is not always bad. Uncontrolled violence is terrible. Violence for violence sake is awful. But controlled violence, violence with a goal, that’s good. Without violence in 1945 those of us on the East Coast would be speaking German. Londoners and Parisians would be speaking German. People on the West Coast would maybe be speaking Japanese: maybe, because after all, Yamamoto said, “I would never fight a land war in America, there would be a rifle behind every blade of grass.”

 

Memorial Day with the Mouse

I said a couple of years ago – after my first Thanksgiving trip to Disney World that I would never go back when it was hot. Going to Florida for “fun” when it’s 95% humidity and 97 degrees in the shade is just beyond ridiculous. There’s not much fun  getting sunburned and sweating like Josh Duggar during a Girl Scout sleepover. I much prefer long sleeves and jeans weather in central Florida. But over Memorial Day I broke that resolution and returned to the sun and heat. The timing was just right: it was a long weekend for one thing, and Disney discounted several hotels. So months ago when the deal came open, the wife and I booked a weekend trip and planned to stay at the Animal Kingdom Lodge.

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Animal Kingdom Lodge Lobby

The day before the trip, I read that this Memorial Day was supposed to be one of the busiest travel days in the previous 10 years, due to a falsely propped-up economy and low gas prices. Great. It made me almost want to drop a large weight on my ankle, because my Thanksgiving I-95 driving experience had made me want to turn around and come home, and completely ruined the trip to the point all I could think about the whole time was leaving.

Traffic this trip was surprisingly light. We left about 4pm and hit I-95, anticipating being at WDW by 11:00pm. The first thing that happened, of course, was my daughter started complaining about her phone being dead.  What is it with kids? She steals every iPhone cord I have in the house. I buy them by the gross, and they’re always going missing, yet her roadway entertainment (in the form of her phone and iPad) are ALWAYS on the verge of dying. If I knew I was going on an 8 hour road trip, I’d charge my crap the night before. So here we are thirty minutes into an 8 hour trip, and her stuff is dead, and the power outlet in the car isn’t working.

Our first gas stop is in Santee, SC, and I go into the store that sells fishing rods, live bait, canned jams and jellies, and finally find the one pack of micro blade fuses and replace the one that will supply power and happiness to my child’s life. Problem solved. 7 easy hours later we’re checking into the most awesome hotel I’ve stayed at on a Disney trip. Of course, a few hours of the trip were driving at night. That was more terrifying than anything Disney has to offer, since I’m currently having a neurological issue that makes driving at night a bit of a challenge and requires all of my concentration.

First, we normally stay in the “Disney Ghetto” known as All Star Sports or Pop Century. They aren’t bad hotels, but they’re the cheapest things on property where you don’t have to bring your room with you (i.e. a camper or a tent), and thus attract a lot of the crowds that would want or need the cheapest things on property. You get lots of parents with large families, tour groups from foreign countries, tour groups from this country, school chorus groups with not enough chaperones to go around, and rambunctious drunks.

The Animal Kingdom lodge is a “deluxe” resort, one of the top tier places on property. Other deluxe resorts include Fort Wilderness Lodge, the Polynesian, The Contemporary, and the Grand Floridian (the last three which circle the lake south of the Magic Kingdom and have monorail service). So this was a big upgrade for us. I have to say I’m a little spoiled. Interior hallways are nice, much like moving up from a Comfort Inn to a DoubleTree resort. The restaurants were better, even though we didn’t eat there, and they even had guys that would come to your room with a luggage cart and help move your suitcases. At Pop Century, you’re kind of on your own.

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Animal Kingdom Bunks next to Queen bed.

Owing to the fact that it was going to be 90 degrees in the shade, I elected to go a lot lighter than usual. I have a nice big SLR camera that I take some places, and its cushioned camera bag backpack that I put snacks and water and a raincoat into. This trip – I ditched it for my new Deuter day pack, which has no cushions and is made of lightweight nylon instead of heavy fabric, and took a pocket camera, small water bottle, raincoat, and a few snacks. It was a big weight off the back and worked pretty well.This was also my first trip with the FitBit.

The first day we got up and went to Epcot. I like EPCOT, but it’s in serious need of an upgrade. First of all, the middle section (past the big golf ball ride) used to be called “Innoventions”. It was an area dedicated to education and new technology. I remember being young and walking through displays of jet engines and rockets, and using computers to create virtual roller coaster rides (big stuff in the early 80s), make the computers speak, use light pens to draw, and all sorts of other cool stuff.

Innoventions has been gutted and turned into restaurants, gift shops, and “character spots”, long lines where you stand and wait to get your picture taken with Donald, Daisy and Pluto. The spirit of “the community of tomorrow” is gone. Now there’s just some shops with a Starbucks outside. But the back part of EPCOT is still fun, seven countries are represented, and wandering through there is always nice.  One of my goals was to dispel a rumor I had heard that the America Pavilion had actually started selling moonshine. EPCOT is a more adult park, and as such all the countries have local forms of booze, and I have said for the past several years that America really needed to ditch the beer crap and sell the drink than made this country what it is.

Well, they do. And I was glad to see that my state was represented. America Pavilion sells Firefly Moonshine, distilled right here in South Carolina. Go Palmetto State! It’s not some watered down fake WalMart moonshine either which is just a malted beverage like a strong beer. No, I bought a jar of 100 proof Blackberry Flavored moonshine. Of course, they wouldn’t just give it to me. They had to send it to the front of the park and I had to carry it out to the car. So after lunch, thats what I did.

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Kaylee at EPCOT

A side note here: We ALWAYS drive to the parks. Yes, Disney offers bus transportation, but the buses are like any other bus. They run on their own schedule, they get crowded, they take a while to get where they are going, and you suffer at the whims of the driver and the bus stops. So I walked to the front of the park, grabbed my hooch, and stashed the ‘shine in the car, protectively wrapped in its bubble wrap and tissue paper, to enjoy at a later time. IMG_5889 The remainder of the day went well, except the wife’s feet finally gave out on her around what I guessed was mile 10 of the day, and we left around 8 to go back to the hotel and take it easy. We rested a bit before going, and people watched on the bench outside of the Japan area.

People watching at Disney is always fun, and we noticed a new trend: Ass Cheek Shorts. If you thought Yoga Pants were bad enough, the new trend is even more revealing. Its now the thing to cut the back of jean shorts all the way to the bottom of the pockets, so when girls walk, the bottom of the ass cheek is a clearly visible fold of skin. Unfortunately I was using my pocket camera, which is way more obvious than my SLR, and I didn’t get any informative shots for you to enjoy and chuckle at.

Butt trust me, the trend is there. Of course, when we got back to the room I had to get some ice and open the jar for some adult beverage. An ounce of South Carolina Stumphole over ice was very, very good, and I was soon asleep. 16.7 miles or so walked today. Disney is rough!

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The Tea Cups

The following day we enjoyed the Magic Kingdom, which to most people is what they think of when you say “I’m going to Disney World”. They think Dumbo and Space Mountain and Prince Charming’s castle. We slept in a little while longer, but still got there around 9 and rode a few rides. By 11 it was time for Casey’s hot dogs. I had a BBQ dog, which was a giant hot dog bun with a pile of BBQ on top. Excellent stuff, and since I REALLY wanted Pecos Bills, it was a worthy compromise. More Ass Cheek Shorts to go around, and plenty of rude foreigners.

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Casey’s hot dogs

I’m not racist, I’m xenophobic. I don’t think I’m superior to foreigners or that we should keep other races or peoples down. Jesus, people, try to have some courtesy and respect others, and if you can’t understand English well enough to abide by the rules, learn the language or stay the heck home. We watched foreigners cut lines (okay, technically it wasn’t out and out cutting, but you’re still not allowed to have a person hold your place in line, then have the other five of your duck under ropes and push past people in line to get to be with your group), we were pushed out of the way at the last minute at parades, and we even had some guy try and put his children directly in front of my wife on top of the trash can she had been standing by for twenty minutes waiting on the fireworks. I gave him a look and told him “no” in a way that could be understood in any language, and it helped that a cast member told him “hey you moron you can’t stand a two year old on a trash can, they’ll fall”, or words to that effect.

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Line cutting – always a good way to save ten minutes.

After the evening parade and fireworks, my wife left to return to the room, and my daughter and I figured we would go ride Space Mountain, since we hadn’t go to do that yet. We went to ride with everyone else in the park, and it took over an hour to get through the line. We were stuck there with six obnoxious kids from a middle school chorus group, and their uncaring chaperone. The Chaperone got picked by the load guy as a single rider, and left us alone with the six kids who got more irritating by the minute. After a worthwhile ride around Space Mountain, we were exhausted and headed back to the hotel. We did ten miles according to FitBit, putting our total for the weekend at 27 miles. We walked a marathon at Disney in a weekend!

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Port Orleans after the river boat ride.

As much as I dreaded the ride down, the ride back was a bigger fear. People go south at varying times, but everyone has to work Tuesday, so we would all be heading back together. We drove over to the Port Orleans resort before coming home, and took a riverboat to Downtown Disney so the wife and daughter could buy stuff at the BASIN store, sort of a fancy Bath and Body Works.

BASIN charges like crazy for shipping, so it was easier to shop there at the place. I really enjoyed the boat ride back, and we hit the interstate. The drive from Disney World to I-95 was pretty hectic, but afterwards it smoothed out and was an easy 7 hours home. Unfortunately, the Air Conditioning on the car quit on the way home for a little while. I had it checked before the trip because it was acting up, and Honda couldn’t find anything wrong. It would randomly quit working and come back on, on it’s own schedule. After having replaced the Evaporator Coil and several other parts when the car was 3 years old (a good faith repair of $300, instead of the $1800 they were planning to charge me), we decided to go ahead and trade the damn thing on a newer car before it totally crapped out. Car shopping is even more fun than a busy trip to Florida in the Summer, so that’s another post.

People are rude.

I continue to lose faith in humanity as a whole. Actually, humanity is a pretty good hole, if you’re talking a-hole.

So last night as usual for this time of year, I attended the first of three dance recitals I will be at this weekend. My daughter has been taking dance for several years. I like the fact the she’s in dance. Please don’t compare your average small-town dance event to those crazy morons on TV, it’s usually not like that. If your dance teacher is like the one on Lifetime, find a new one.

I like dance because: Theres only one weekend a year to go to. Other than lessons, there’s not much to do. I hear about these poor softball parents that spend three days a week wasting away in bleachers for hours, or soccer moms that spend half the summer watching matches and I think, “God Im so glad that isn’t me”. I hate sports, and certainly don’t want to spend hours and days watching sports that I’m really not interested in. Dance is also inside, in the Air Conditioning. If my daughter wants to take up a sport, I guess gymnastics would be fine, after all, that’s inside.

So I’m at the dance recital and people file in like normal. All around I hear little mutterings “No, these seats are saved.” Seven seats. In a row. One old granny parked on each end of a row of seats. They’re saving seats like it’s the junior high lunch room and they’re waiting on the popular kids.

No. You don’t do shit like that. A family of four walked past you, the theater is getting full, there aren’t a whole lot of seats left, and you have the audacity to tell someone, “You can’t sit here, even though you are here already and the lazy group of jerks I am waiting on haven’t bothered to show up yet.” Thats what you are saying, to another grown, adult person standing there in front of you. As if that’s not bad enough, people accept this, as if these two women somehow have the right to do that. If someone told me and my group, “Oh no, you can’t sit here because we’re saving this row”, it would take everything I have not to just give them a hearty “fuck you”, and plop down any way. Yes, I would sit down, but cursing is out, because after all, its a theater, and you don’t want to get tossed out. People actually have to get security involved over seat conflicts. Simple rule: If it’s empty, sit in it. Sure, leave a seat for the husband that may be in the bathroom or the wife parking the car, but if there are six seats in a row empty? Take four of them and have a seat. Grandma’s buddies should have gotten there sooner.

Electronics rule the world. Big announcement right before the show: No recording the show (because after all, DVDs are available for purchase), that’s pretty easy to understand. No texting during performances. Also pretty easy. The dance performances are short 2-3 minute events with a minute or so between them while they reset props and get out the next group of kids. Plenty of time to text if you need to. Please put away all electronics. Again, simple. No flash photography.

So…what happens? People just basically ignore all of that. The lights go down and it’s like a candlelight vigil in the audience from all the phones that are on. The audience is glowing. Ushers and security have to run around telling people, “Hey dumbass, put up your phone, there are actual people to watch on the stage now”. Well, they were nicer about it, but that’s pretty much what goes on. Look, I know people have to text and check their Facebook pages every four minutes or they start having withdrawals. But not during the dances, especially the opening number.

Worse than that are the parents who bring little kids with their iPads or tablets. The lights go out, and there are sections of the theatre bright enough to see from space, because these little darlings are too young or uninterested enough to spend three hours waiting on their sister to dance for two minutes. So, they have their own entertainment brought in, with the express purpose of pissing off the people who are there to actually Watch. The. Show. Again, it’s ushers to the rescue. “You’re going to have to have your child turn that off”

“What’s he supposed to do for fun?”

“I don’t know miss, maybe WATCH THE DANCE?”

So this one kid has an absolute fit when mom turns off his iPad. In the vernacular, he “flips a bitch” and loses it. Mom finally takes him in the lobby and does nothing effective, because he still cries and whines (I guess he’s not used to being taken away from the Apple Babysitter). The ultimate solution? Take him upstairs where there’s not much of a crowd, sit him in the balcony section, and leave him by himself with his teddy bear and his iPad in the corner where he won’t bother anyone. Look, hire a babysitter, leave the kid with grandma or your baby daddy for the evening. I get it, seven year olds don’t care to watch their five year old sister falling all over the stage. I feel his pain. But just because you couldn’t come up with something better to DO with him, doesn’t mean it’s okay for him to bring the light of a thousand suns into a dark theater.

And of course comes the “I just want to record MY kid” parent. Every act, here come the camera phones. Because nothing looks as good as your child through a tiny 3 inch screen, instead of you looking at the stage and enjoying the show. And nothing quite pisses people off behind you while they try to watch their own kid, but instead have this light in their face because you’re too cheap to buy the show DVD. At least learn how your phone works. Turn down the brightness to its minimum level. The video will still be bright when you put it on Facebook, watch it three times and never look at it again. Turn OFF the “flash”. Yeah, that little LED light 75 feet away from the stage is really improving your child’s video… Seriously though, it’s not doing a damn thing but acting like a laser beam in the eyes of the people immediately around you. The dancers are lit up by several thousand watts of light. You know what that means? You DON’T NEED A FLASH!

At least there were no crying babies.