Sunday, August 31, 2014

End-of-season visit to Hurricane Harbor

We hadn't been to Hurricane Harbor all summer, because we had season passes to Camelbeach this year instead. But we bought season passes for 2015 and got the final weekend of 2014 free.

A few things stood out.

First, the bad:
  • It was a thirty-minute wait in the hot sun just to get in the gates. Thirty minutes! Can't Six Flags solve this? With all their MBA analyses and regression models? Can't they figure out how to get people into the park? (Great Wolf Lodge had the same issue a few years ago with check-in wait times. Guess what? They figured it out.)
  • The lines at the slides were no better. You wait and you wait and you wait, then a dozen FlashPass jerks gleefully skip past you to the front of the line. Who is the Finance VP who came up with the concept of the FlashPass? There is a special place in hell. 
  • A few areas of the park are getting a little long in the tooth. The pirate-ship wall behind the wave pool, for example, is in dire need of a fresh coat of paint and a few more palm fronds on the roof of the fake hut. But thank God the Welch's sponsorship banners are new.
  • They still charge for tubes in the lazy river. I'm happy to walk in the lazy river, frankly. It's just the absurdity of the concept.
  • This was the first time Ethan ever said, "Oh, man, why'd we go to a water park?" Granted, Ethan is thirteen, so he complains about everything. But that's not something you want to hear from your core target customer demo.
The good:
  • I still like Hurricane Harbor. I do. I like the whole concept. I like the fiberglass trees and the steel drum music, and the smiling toddlers, and the feeling of joy that pervades the place whenever people aren't waiting in a long line. When you're in the water, everything is right with the world.
  • The season passes are a bargain. They're good for both Hurricane Harbor and Six Flags.
  • It ain't Disneyland, where a guy walks behind you and re-paints everything you touch, but Six Flags does a pretty good job with maintenance.
  • Best-kept secret: you can get a thick milkshake for $5. Shhh--don't tell their CFO.
So...we're coming back in 2015. With or without Ethan.

Saturday, August 30, 2014

Hello, Child Protective Services?

First of all, and most important, this was all Jennifer's idea.

Samuel has always wanted to stay at a "pod" hotel, which is a tiny room essentially consisting of a bed. They are popular in Japan (but so are seaweed, Hello Kitty, and The Carpenters, so what do they know?).

The closest thing in New York City is a "capsule hotel" called Yotel. It's on 42nd Street, a few blocks from Times Square, in an area that I like to call the Off-Broadway Theater District, or perhaps the Homeless Vomit District.

To cut to the chase, we let the boys spend the themselves.

We left them at 9 pm with strict instructions to stay in their room and call us if they needed us. We expected a panicked call from Ethan at 3 am asking us to come get him, but the only call we got was from Samuel at 9:30 asking for a computer security code sent to my email.

They Skyped with friends and played on their laptops until 2 am, then went to bed. That was that.

So...cross it off Samuel's bucket list.

Now if you'll excuse me I'm a very busy man; please direct all questions and concerns to Jennifer.

Wednesday, August 27, 2014

Six straight days

I've gone running six days in a row. I haven't run for six continuous days since probably 1991. Probably not even then.

I generally only run every other day in order to rest my aging legs. But the weather's been nice, and Central Park is green and summery, and...I've just felt like running.

Ethan said, "Dad, why do you run so much? It's normal to get fat when you're old."

I said, "So I should stop trying to stay in shape?"

He said, "Yeah. No one cares. You can get all fat and people will just say, 'Oh, he looks normal.'"

Sunday, August 24, 2014

Late summer update

It's been a bit of an odd summer. Colder than usual--that's not my imagination, is it?

Also more stressful for me than usual--due to not having a job, then due to having a new job. In my next life I will either be employee #5 at Google, or the prince of a small European principality. Either way my job duties will be limited to writing occasional children's books and making public appearances at water parks--traveling strictly by DeLorean.

Speaking of books, I sold manuscript #5 (not yet announced), and book #4 ("My Grandma is a Ninja") was officially announced. So, creatively speaking, that's an awesome summer.

I think the biggest change this summer is that Samuel and Ethan would rather be at home on the computer than hanging out with their parents. As you can see from the photo above, I've had to resort to hiring child actors to maintain the illusion of gleeful family outings.

Jen says when the boys go off to college she will still go to water parks with me. That is love. Perhaps I will reward her with a DeLorean.

Wednesday, August 13, 2014

"If I were in charge of the lottery..."

"...instead of giving $5,000 a week for life, I'd give $4,000 a week for life, plus $1,000 a week worth of bacon. That way people would eat all that bacon and die faster, and I'd save a lot of money."

--Ethan Tarpley

Thursday, August 7, 2014

Our budget summer vacation, Days 4 & 5

Day 4:
We packed up our tent and drove to Delaware. We were supposed to check out of the KOA at 11, but we didn't get out of there 'til noon.

Then it was supposed to be a five-hour drive, but due to traffic, potty breaks and missed exits, it took seven. It was not the most fun day of the trip.

We checked into a Comfort Inn at 7pm. Ethan joined me for a sunset swim, which put me in a better mood.

We had a nice dinner at a Mexican restaurant, then came back to the hotel and crashed.

Day 5:
We went on a "treetop adventure" at a place called Go Ape! It entailed climbing trees, walking across rope bridges from tree to tree, swinging into giant nets, and zip-lining across a pond.

Guess what?

Ethan loved it. He was yakking away and whooping it up the entire time. We had to keep saying, "Shhh!" Even though we were in the middle of a state park.

So I would say we ended on a high note.

You know, if we'd had the money to go to Atlantis, there probably would've been a hurricane, and I would've complained about that. If we had a summer house in the Hamptons, I'd complain that it wasn't close enough to the beach.

Our little budget mini-vacation was just fine. We had fun. In the end, like life, it's not where you go, it's who you go with.

Tuesday, August 5, 2014

Our budget summer vacation, Day 3

We had an all-day outing to the Lost World Caverns in Lewisburg, West Virginia.

Samuel and Jennifer took the four-hour "Wild Cave Tour." Ethan and I stuck to the regular thirty-minute tour, as Ethan's not crazy about small spaces and darkness and spiders and bats.

While Jen and Sam were gone, Ethan and I poked around town, drove over to a fancy resort called the Greenbrier at the next town over, then came back and basically sat around waiting for Jen and Sam.

It was a long four hours, which stretched into five because the cave tour ran long.

Ethan was not happy.

We had dinner at a Pizza Hut, then settled in for another night at the KOA, where we were the only tent in the entire campground. I guess Monday nights aren't a big camping night.

I will say this: I was a New York snob when it came to my preconceived notions of West Virginia. I thought it would be all hillbillies, coal miners, and moonshine. Maybe we were in the non-hillbilly part of the state, but I didn't see a single Bloodhound. Unfortunately.

Monday, August 4, 2014

Our budget summer vacation, Day 2

Today we took a five-hour tubing trip down the James River.

Two hours would've been ideal.

Ethan sulked. "This is the worst vacation ever. I'd rather be back in school than be on this vacation."

Then I accidentally dropped our rental car keys into the river.

I had just taken these photos and was putting my cell phone back into the plastic bag that held our valuables, and out dropped the car keys, right into the river. They sank like a rock.

I jumped out of my tube and frantically tried to find my footing against the current in the four-foot-deep water. Then I tried walking slowly back and forth feeling my way along the bottom with my toes, hoping for a miracle. After fifteen minutes I was shivering and I needed to get out of the water. Two locals in kayaks came by and helped us look for another fifteen minutes, but we finally gave up.

We called Thrifty--they told us to call a locksmith, and that there was a $200 charge for lost keys. Not including the cost of the locksmith. We were on the phone with a local locksmith when the two kayakers paddled back up to us.

Guess what? They'd found our keys.

So we survived our tubing trip.

That evening we checked into a KOA campground (remember: budget vacation), set up our tent, then headed back to Lexington for dinner.

We hit a deer.

An adult deer came bounding across the road, and I saw him in time to brake; then right behind him came a smaller deer, who ran smack into my front bumper. I hit him at probably ten miles an hour. He spun on his back across the road and into the grass, then slowly got up and bounded away. So maybe he was okay. The car was fine.

We had dinner at the only restaurant that was still open at 8:45--a rather fancy restaurant called the Southern Inn. Ethan had fried chicken strips and said it was the best part of the vacation so far.

Sunday, August 3, 2014

Our budget summer vacation, Day 1

It's a budget year. Seems like it's always a budget year, huh?

We drove seven hours from NYC to Lexington, Virginia, making stops at Arby's and Cracker Barrel. If I didn't know better I'd say the exact same fifty old people were at Cracker Barrel the last time we visited one; it was like that Jim Carrey movie, "The Truman Show."

We pulled into the Sleep Inn in Lexington at 7pm, took a quick dip in the pool, then drove into town for dinner at a local cafe, where we were the last patrons at 8:15.

Not sure how she pulled this off, but Jennifer managed to squeeze in a trip to the local WalMart for "necessities" at 9:30.

So...not as exciting as a vacation in the Bahamas, perhaps. (But how would we know?)