Sunday, May 10, 2009

For Sale: Live Chickens

That’s what the sign read at 5am yesterday morning on Orange Blossom Trail in Orlando, FL. I was out in the warm, balmy air early before the day kicked off at the 2009 U.S. Navy Supply Corps National Conference. OK….first, let’s skip back a few days so I can bring you forward to the chickens:

As an excuse for a mini-vacation with my family combined with a required trip to Orlando with the Navy, we hit the road Wednesday morning for a 16 hour road trip south. Being the “expert” planner that I try to be (that’s the ‘A’ personality type coming out in me), I estimated where we’d be around the 10 hour mark and shopped the hotels. That would put us south of Columbia, SC halfway to Charleston, SC in a town called Orangeburg. I ended up choosing the HOJO Express (Howard Johnson). It was about $59 with military discount and had decent ratings. About halfway there on Wednesday, I called down to make the reservation since we were on schedule. After I deciphered what the minimal-English-speaking clerk was saying, I made the reservation without coughing up my credit card number. I offered it thinking this was a requirement but all he’d accept was my phone number. (RED flag #1) As we got nearer, I just had a weird feeling in my gut like I should shop around for a different place to stay “just in case.” I did so, thanks to my Tom-Tom GPS, and found a few other good options close by. As we pulled into the HOJO parking lot that evening, we saw the following: “suspicious” looking people (that’s all the detail I’ll put into print!) hanging around on the two levels of the outside-entrance hotel rooms, old appliances supposedly victims of recent refurbishing, and a very empty parking lot. (RED flag #2) I played the part of the good reservation-maker and went in to ask to see the room just to confirm my gut. I walk in and see two filthy girls in clothes five sizes too small working behind the counter. They spoke English fine…the other guy must have gone home. They were sitting down watching an old TV on a milk crate. (RED flag #3) I asked to see the room and did so but with zero intention of staying there. I opened the room and not only did it stink, but it was dirty like it hadn’t been swept. I wasn’t about to check the sheets, either. I headed back to the lobby and let the girls know we were going to keep on driving. I wasn’t lying…it’s just that we were going to drive straight across the street to the Hampton Inn. I had called them earlier and the lady who answered was super nice and offered a 10% discount. We ended up staying there and were incredibly happy. In fact, that same general manager greeted us by name at breakfast the next morning. So was the $30 increase worth it to cross the street? Heck, yea!

I awoke dying to get some miles in. It had clearly rained overnight and lightning was dancing around in the clouds in the pre-dawn sky. So far, I’d only got in 10 miles all week and that was on ONE day…absolutely pathetic. So, in an effort to salvage the week in running, I went out hoping for at least 10 more before everyone got up. It was a high humidity, balmy, mid-70s morning. I did my best to map out a course online and headed towards downtown. From the very beginning, I felt like my head should be on a swivel rotating 360 degrees for security. I just didn’t feel safe. As I passed businesses, I made note of how each one had steel bars protecting them. I also noted the barbed wire around a few schools. I kept running just hoping it would get better (ya know…kinda like running through an injury, right?). It never really did until around 5 miles in, I came upon a park…a Memorial Gardens, to be exact. I headed on in for some mental relaxation and then turned around at the 6 mile point and re-traced my steps back. All-in-all, a miserable run…quick and fast-paced, but miserable. I am so used to my morning solitude-filled runs in my rural, country town where I can really relax and mentally slip away. Once back on the road, we arrived in Orlando six hours later and spent the evening at Sea World. Another benefit of holding a military ID is free admission for my entire family…it’s part of their Salute to Heroes program. It was a good evening capped off with third row seats at the Shamu show, “Believe” where we got drenched by Shamu. It was really, really good…my favorite part of the park.

With all the driving and walking around in the 95F heat at Sea World, I didn’t run on Friday morning. Instead, we were at the Magic Kingdom at 8am so my youngest daughter could celebrate her birthday with Cinderella by having “Breakfast with Cinderella” at the castle. While Marjie and my girls dined with royalty, I grabbed myself some Chick-Fil-A outside the park and killed some time until meeting back up at lunch. After a L O N G day, it all ended with the fireworks display over the castle at 9pm. It was really good and worthy of several pictures. My handy-dandy Canon did well in its night mode…here are the pictures.

So here we are full circle back to the chickens. I head out Saturday morning wanting miles more than anything since I only had a whopping 22 miles so far and that was only on two days. Once again, it was a run filled with paranoia as I was constantly passed by loud booming car stereos and people walking just staring me down…downright eerie. Then came the chickens: on the opposite side of the road, there was a group of…uh, how do I remain politically correct here…um…trouble makers. Let’s just say it was the same “group” that was hanging out at HOJO. They were sitting around on lawn chair besides a vending trailer…you know, the kind you see at the county fair selling elephant ears. Well, they weren’t selling powdered-sugar elephant ears! Nope! LIVE CHICKENS! Perhaps it was for a local cock-fighting tournament? Maybe chicken for some chicken burritos later that night? They were selling other animals as well but honestly, the chickens are all that stuck in my head. Oh yea, I also got yelled at by a rent-a-security-guard while passing through a Ford dealership (lots of lights = felt safe running through it). “Hey!”, I heard from behind me. I turned and looked and heard “We’re closed!” “Really?”, I shouted back…and kept on running. Please keep in mind it was about 5:30am. Back at the resort, 8 miles were logged, 30 for the week, and I was just plain crabby about the run. I run BECAUSE I’m crabby!!!….not to GET crabby!!!

Sunday is here, which marks day one of a new running week. I’m so glad last week is behind me. (regarding running, that is) We’ll be laying our heads south of Charlotte, NC tonight (NASCAR country!) before completing the trip tomorrow. I feel bad for Marjie today since it’s really nothing more than a travel day…while on Mother’s Day. However, she did relax poolside all morning at the resort while my conference wrapped up.

Have a great week, everyone and Happy Trails!

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