A road trip to Florida

Work trips with Digital provided much excitement for the family, as often I was able to bring them along . When I was sent to Massachusetts for a few months in the late ‘80s to prepare for the introduction of the VAX 9000, Anne and the kids came over for a few weeks in the middle. To makethe most of this we decided to embark on an epic family road trip to Disneyworld in Florida. I had been working twelve hour shifts for half a week at a time, which meant that when I finished one shift I was able to arrange a full one-week break before starting the next. I figured that we could make the 1,300 mile journey to Orlando in just two days, then take two days to visit Disneyworld, and another two days to get back. We had use of a rental Dodge Caravan, a decent people carrier, to make the journey.

We headed off in the early morning the day after my shift finished and I was keen to make as much progress as possible before we stopped. Once I am driving I can continue for hours without either food or toilet stops, and this was the regime I envisaged as we headed off. But of course, Anne and the children had other ideas. “Can we stop now?” “Just a few more miles.” “We’re hungry.” “Just a few more miles.” “We need to go to the toilet.” Just a few more miles!” We made the necessary stops, but always with me fretting about time lost at each stop!
At one stage on the journey, Heather said something that sounded like “Love you”. Anne responded, “I love you too”. A few minutes later Heather said, more insistently, “Love you” and again Anne responded, “I love you too”. This was repeated a few times before Heather said, more insistent still, “No, not ‘love you’, I’m saying ‘Low Fuel’.” She had noticed an alert light flashing the words on the dashboard; Anne and I had completely missed it. Luckily, we still had time to find a gas station and fill up. A few hours into the journey we were driving through New York City, with me awestruck by the sheer volume of traffic on the multilane roads and Anne worrying that if we broke down we would be attacked by gangs and our murdered bodies left at the side of the highway. We crossed the Hudson and soon joined the New Jersey Turnpike, where Anne and I regaled the children with a ropey rendition of Simon and Garfunkel’s “America”.

We stayed in Charlotte NC the first night and eventually made it to our Comfort Inn in Orlando at the end of a second long day of driving. We bought discounted tickets for Disneyworld at the hotel, then worried all night that they were fake. But they did the job and gained us admission the next morning. In the giant parking lot stewards directed us to park in a grass section, shouting repeatedly the name “Goofy Grass” as we exited, so we’d remember where we had parked.

I suppose like most people who have ever visited Disneyworld, we were totally bowled over and charmed to an extent that surprised us. Though it was early in the year, the weather was warm and the sun shone all day. We had a busy day of flashy parades and well-designed rides, with Disney characters turning up unexpectedly to greet the children and sign autographs! We were there from early morning and we stayed until the park closed in the evening, finishing with another parade where they handed out glowing necklaces to the children. We stopped at KFC and bought a family bucket of chicken and potato to bring back to the hotel.

The following day we visited Universal Studios, in some ways an even better experience. I remember the children reaching to try to catch butterflies in the 3D cinema, and a replica movie set that showed how special effects are created. Next day we started the long ride home. I don’t remember where we overnighted on our way back, but the receptionist was not quite unflappable when I rang ahead to book the hotel just before leaving Orlando. When I said where we were coming from she replied, “and you expect to get here this evening!” We made it, and continued our journey the following day, when we encountered the heaviest fog I have ever driven through. We made Massachusetts by nightfall, everyone safe, sound and sleepy.

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