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    Tuesday, November 29, 2022

    Sea Dogs in Cocoa Beach

    We had the worst dry hangover ever. I was awake till 4:00 am and the Quad Queen was awake till 5:00 am.

    I woke the next morning at 8:00 am and waved it off until 9:00. It had been such a long day, and night before, and worth every bit of what it took to witness the launch of Artemis 1.

    If you've never experienced the dizzying thunderous roar of highly explosive propellants, you should witness a launch in person. If you can't do that, have a couple of burritos at a Roberto's, trust me.

    So there we were in Titusville (insert puerile jokes here) with the launch achieved, and three back-up nights in hand. The only thing to do was to play tourist!

    While the Little Giant was burbling some premium coffee into a paper cup, I went down to investigate the hotel breakfast and was delighted to find little cheese omelettes, and spicy red breakfast 'taters. Mrs. Flusher executed on some of her room camping recipes. I brought breakfast up, and we planned.


    We'd hang around the room, and then take a drive, maybe checking out where the Kennedy Space Center was. Early in the afternoon we were ready to explore. We hopped into the car and headed east to the river, and then south, following the signs to the KSC, and noting the Warbirds museum along the way, which instantly made it onto my list of 'must drag the Quad Queen through' destinations.


    We found the Kennedy Space Center across a long causeway, just where we'd left it on Feb 2, 1997, when we'd witnessed the night launch of the space shuttle Discovery on STS-82. It was well into afternoon, so we decided to return when we could spend more time there.

    I passed by the entrance and kept going. And found myself headed right toward the gatehouse and checkpoint, where badges are required to gain entrance. Oops.

    Fortunately, there is a very well used u-turn lane just in front of the gatehouse. We turned around and headed for Cocoa Beach, to see if we could find a Sea Dog, which is likely just a hot dog named a Sea Dog because ocean.

    It was a beautiful day with dramatic clouds garnishing the sky like giant white olives. Where they find frilly-ended toothpicks that size is beyond my comprehension.


    The Quad Queen spotted the Victory Casino entrance but I had to disappoint her and tell her that it was one of those boat casinos and off limits.

    We made it to Cocoa Beach and found the pier, and the Sea Dogs place, but I bristled at the fact that I'd have to pay a minimum of five bucks to park, just so I could consume a dodgy frankfurter, notwithstanding its charming 'Sea Dog' moniker. Maybe some other time.

    It was important to place an image of a palm tree on this informative sign that blocks the view of nature.

    We bailed, and found the Alan Shepard park, where we paid to park. And it didn't have a Sea Dog. But it did have a big-ass beautiful space beach and boardwalk, so we wandered around in the sun. Our whole first winter in Florida last year, we never made it to either of the coasts.

    Atlantic Ocean - done.



    There's something about the sound of the waves that resets my stress-o-meter. We thought it might be fun to get a room here sometime and spend a couple of days making sand alligators on the beach, and eating Sea Dogs.

    There's nothing like a tourist town to attract tourist traps, and the Don Juan Surfing Shop was one.


    I think people go to this place because it's a thing and it's a thing because people go there, and it's pretty big. They sell all kinds of surfing gear to people who wouldn't know a surf board if the Beach Boys had signed one and stuck it in front of their face.

    I'm one of those people.




    We managed to keep the souvenir fever to a reasonable two t-shirt purchase - commemorative Artemis Long John Launch Surfing Shop tees. They threw some Don Juan stickers into the bag like bon-bons. I have yet to determine where to place these free advertisements.

    The day was coming to a close, so we drove a bit further south past the Air Force base, then west, then back north to Titusville. Destination, Publix. To top up room camping supplies.

    And in Publix, I made a horrifying discovery that would color rest of the entire trip.





    Wednesday, November 23, 2022

    Artemis 1 Launch - Space Room Camping

    A lot has to go right to launch a rocket. Almost as much has to go right to try to watch them launch a rocket.


    Like so many kids of my era, I've had a life-long fascination with the space program. I'd never got to see a live Saturn V launch, but I did manage a shuttle night launch once. It was incredible.

    Years ago, when I first heard of NASA's SLS, which would be almost as tall and more powerful than any other rocket ever built, I added a mental bucket list item - to see one go up in person.

    This summer, they tried more than once to launch Artemis 1, the first SLS rocket, but they couldn't get the wrinkles ironed out.

    We hoped that somehow the new launch date would coincide with our return to Florida for the winter. Throw a Hurricane Ian in there and September/October became November, and we were in business.

    The next thing I needed was a place to watch the launch. I have a second cousin in Titusville, who worked in the space program, and who lives within walking distance of the Indian River shore, with a perfect view of launch pad 39B. Sorted.

    Finally, we needed a place to stay. As soon as the dates were announced, I booked an ocean front room in Daytona Beach Shores, an easy drive from Titusville. A bunch of Hilton points and $150 got me four nights, enough coverage for the first two of three launch windows. It would be fun to hang out on the beach for a few days, and hopefully take in the big rocket.

    Boy did I fuck that up. For some reason, I was completely out of touch with just how much damage Ian had done, and where. I was mostly concerned with the west coast, and of course, our unit in the Greacey Palms Senior Putt Putt Trailer Park.

    But beachfront property in the Shores had been ravaged. Many sea walls were crumbling or down, and properties were at risk. I checked with the hotel and they said everything was fine. Of course it was. And now that the new launch date was set, looking at hotels nearer the launch site, I was faced with $450 a night rates.

    Then Nicole hit. My cousin warned me that some condos and hotels were being evacuated, as they were in danger of collapse. With the sea walls busted up, Nicole's waves and tidal surge were able to erode the sandy soil that was holding up the buildings.

    Nicole also caused the November 14th date to be scrubbed. We were now looking at the 16th, with the 19th as a backup date.

    Well, there was no course of action left. I cancelled my Daytona Beach Shores reservations, got my points back, and started looking.

    Through sheer luck, will power, sheer skill, and more sheer luck, the Hampton Offramp Inn in Titusville came up for four nights, covering the launch windows on the 16th and the 19th for points plus $250. SOLD and it would be much easier to navigate the huge traffic tie-ups that come with every launch on the Cape.

    This was harder than booking a Vegas trip!

    The plan was to keep costs down by using our Ultimate Space Room Camping techniques and having many meals and drinks in our room.

    Little did I know that the Quad Queen would go to lengths that I never could have imagined.

    Mrs. Flusher began packing up kitchen things, including our newly acquired HotLogic portable 'oven'. Thank you to the many people that have been on my case to get one of these for Vegas! For some reason, I keep thinking it's called a HotPocket, something that can get you arrested for in Utah.

    My concern came to horror when I saw the mountain of stuff she wanted to bring with us. The extent of my packing was one small carry-on suitcase, the Little Giant, some ground coffee, and a few of the food items in the cold bag.

    The other 27 cubic feet of stuff in the trunk and back seat of the Tercel were hers.

    We had a leisurely trip to Titusville, stopping at (where else) a random Waffle House in the Orlando area. Orlando features about 893 Waffles House, so it was just a matter of putting the signal on when we got hungry, and pulling into the next one that came along.




    We found our hotel and I shlepped and I shlepped and I shlepped some more, humping the car-full of gear up to the room.

    Refrigerator things got put in the refrigerator - condiments, cheese, tuna in packets, sandwich things. Other things got laid out across every horizontal surface in the room, and I dared not even try to make sense of it all. It was a complete clutterfuck.

    It was mid-afternoon, and time to start watching, waiting, and worrying. I got in contact with my cousin and we planned to head over about midnight.

    After a rest, and some plan-making for the launch window at 1:04 am with my cousin, we had a cocktail and then set out making dinner.

    The Quad Queen laid out some bread on a cutting board. Along with one of our good kitchen knifes - the serrated all-purpose one.

    "Can you go in the fridge and get me the ham?" she said.

    I opened the fridge and looked. "You brought a ham?!"

    "Yes."

    "An entire fucking ham."

    "Yes."

    "WHY??!"

    "I like ham."

    Outer Space Ham

    I handed over the four pounder and made another cocktail, and retreated to the bed to await my turn at food-making. I put my drink down on... a coaster.

    "You brought coasters?!!!"

    "Yes."

    "WHY?!"

    "To put under your drink."

    Okay, then.

    Mrs. Flusher settled in to eat a complicated rocket salad (with outer space ham and cucumber), and a tunafish salad launch sandwich.


    I went to make food. There were utensils. Real ones. Plates. Bowls. A microwave lid. A can opener. Tomatoes. Red peppers. Sauerkraut. 18 bottles of pop, two gallons of water, six cans of beer plus liquor (which I didn't quibble about), tea bags, a quart of cream, a tea mug, a large insulated drinking cup, tea towels, 15 Ziploc bags of varying capacities.

    No coffee mug for me.

    "You brought cans of soup?!!!"

    "Yes."

    "Let me guess - because you like soup."

    There was an entire stick of capsule crackers to go with the starfield soup.

    There were napkins, a bag with our collection of takeout packets of things like ketchup and mustard and paper salt and peppers. There was also, inexplicably, a full bottle of ketchup. There was bread, there was buns. There were two pounds of walnuts.

    And there was a deck of cards. Chargers. Cables. And of course, 19 changes of clothes plus all the other various and sundry girl supplies.

    I looked in the fridge.

    "YOU BROUGHT BACON???!!!"

    "Yes."

    Actually, another item I could stand behind was cooked bacon - that one was brilliance.

    I cobbled together a sandwich with some deli meats I'd requested to be brought, cream cheese, and little packets of condiments (sans packets). On the side, pickles.

    Yes, she'd packed a jar of Mt. Olive (always good advice) organic dill pickles.

    And, oh for fuck's sake, an entire jar of pickled, fucking, beets.

    This woman takes her inter-galactic gastro-astronomical creature comforts seriously.

    I made and ate a deli sandwich - smoked turkey, salami, and deli sandwich fixin's.

    For the time being, we crashed out on the beds, TV on and showing the Artemis count down. I'd brilliantly thought to bring a firestick, so we had access to all kinds of NASA feeds. We napped, waited, watched, worried, waited, and waited some more.

    Things were going great this time for the count down, until they weren't. There was a problem, the kind that had caused previous launches to be scrubbed.

    We really didn't want to stay up through the launch window, potentially until 3:00 in the morning, hoping for lift-off just to have it delayed yet again.

    The "red team" were called out to tighten the bolts on a leaking fuel fitting. 

    You couldn't pay me enough to walk up to a rocket that contained enough liquid hydrogen and liquid oxygen to product 8.8 million pounds of thrust - more if it went off all at once - and start reefing on some gigantic spark-prone bolts.

    We decided to head to my cousin's place and had a nice visit while monitoring the situation from there. Good news, the brave red team had been successful, and NASA were coming up with a new launch time. We decided to walk out to the water's edge, where we'd watch and wait some more.

    We had a perfect vantage point, the beautiful ship lit up with floodlights, straight across the water. Like a beacon, a beautiful moon hung almost perfectly above the launch pad. The moon, where the Orion capsule was headed, a quarter of a million miles away.

    Almost an hour went by, but we heard applause from a nearby restaurant, and I knew from that that there was a new launch time, and the countdown would be resumed. Meanwhile, a buddy of mine in the UK was monitoring the coverage and giving me updates about just when they hoped to go.

    We got the heads up that the 10 minute countdown had started. More applause from the people drinking on the restaurant patio nearby. I looked at my watch and took a bead on when we might see Artemis 1's massive engines ignite and lift the great beast skyward. It was 1:37 am.

    Around 1:47 I gave a little countdown of my own, even though I knew it was a wild-ass guess. 10... 9...

    You can guess the rest.

    I was only off by 3 or 4 seconds.

    The floodlights were suddenly surpassed by a growing, glowing yellow-white light, fringed in billows of smoke. Over the course of just a few seconds, the light became a sun, lighting up all of Cape Canaveral, the river, and the town. Night became day, and Artemis 1 rose majestically skyward.

    The word awesome is overused, but I stood literally in awe at this incredible achievement, and, as when I was a boy, it inspired me that I was witnessing history, the dawn of mankind being able to leave our home planet for the unknown, beyond the bounds of our tiny blue planet.

    It took quite a while before the sound hit us - the rocket's arc until now had been eerily and beautifully silent. No longer. The roar came, the crackle, the scream of the raging inferno from the engines and solid rocket boosters, the bang bang of the sonic boom as she crashed past the speed of sound, ever accelerating, reaching higher and higher.

    I used binoculars for a while. The sound faded, the light dimmed. She was away and flying. I saw the two solid rocket boosters burn out and then fall away, perfectly matched, one on each side, a ballet in the sky.

    A couple of minutes had passed. Artemis was far away, appearing as new star, its man-made fire still brightly visible but fading fast as she arced heavenward trying bravely to match the glory of God's universe. She was where she needed to be, home.


    I didn't find this out until after the trip, but the Quad Queen had also packed, and brought with us, zero gravity ice cube trays.

    Just in case.




    Monday, November 14, 2022

    Amtrak Autotrain to Florida part 2 - Lorton Hears a Loo

    From Scranton it's a four to five hour drive to Lorton, Virginia, the northern terminus of the Amtrak Autotrain run. The train boards between 12:30 and 3:30, so you really don't want to get held up on this part of the trip.

    You either make it, or you don't.

    The hot food option at the hotel turned out to be some premade Jimmy Dean breakfast sandwiches - variations on biscuit, bagel, egg, sausage, cheese, ham etc.

    I had a biscuit one first, skipping half the biscuit. Then I had a bagel one, skipping half the bagel. Coffee. It was enough.

    I planned a route that avoided as much of the 90 lane beltway around the nation's capitol, head a little more west, and then take a toll road toward DC.

    There was one question, though, at Harrisburg, should I take the big half-moon I-81 route, or take what looked to be a time-saver, the unknown Highway 15. It seemed to be divided highway for most of the stretch, but parts of it meandered through towns.

    We got up at 6:00 am so I decided to gamble on the road less travelled - 15. Meandering time would be made up by the shorter route, I reasoned.

    And what a great choice this turned out to be! The route was easily the most enjoyable and had the prettiest scenery of any stretch we've travelled between Flusherville and Florida. The pace is slower, and you can really get a feel of how people live in that part of the country. Gettysburg is a stone's throw from the highway (or a cannon ball's shot away, I guess) and there are tons of historic stops to make on this journey through what is designated as Hallowed Ground.



    We made Lorton in good time, making use of the toll express lanes on I-495 and joined the line of cars waiting to board, a line that stretched clear out of the station grounds, and down the road.

    Next time, we'll take a break just before Lorton, because it took an hour or so to get loaded up after we'd joined the line.


    The line of cars split into two as we neared the check-in, and we 'raced' a gigantic brand new white Suburban in the other lane for half an hour or so. It was filled with people, and the cute little black kids took time out to play in the grass, Mom keeping a watchful eye as the line crept forward.

    Just at the check-in point, an official went and talked to the driver of the white Suburban tank and after a brief conversation, it pulled across the front of the line and did a 180, heading out the exit.

    Oh My God the tank was too big for the train, which has strict height, width, length and width of tire requirements.

    We made it up to the kiosk, the dimensions of our '84 Tercel not being an issue, and the fella checked our reservation, slapped a magnetic number plate on the driver's door, gave us some paperwork, and motioned us to one of five or six lanes.

    The process was dead simple. Stop the car, lower the window, leave the keys in the car, get out, take your gear (we're moving out), and walk away, McFly.

    There wasn't much to do but admire the gorgeous station building, walk up and down along the length of the train, watch them load cars, and then stand in front of our car, bored, waiting, waiting, and waiting.





    We watched engines shunting filled auto carrier cars away from the loading are and onto the back of the train, and watched people come and go - but mostly wait.

    I spied with my little eye the family from the gigantic Suburban! I asked the Mom 'so what happened to the Suburban??'

    She told me that it was too wide and they had to have the driver's side view mirror removed in order to get it on the train. They were directed to a nearby garage. The very nice, friendly people at the garage removed the one cosmetic cover plate and two fastener screws that held the side view mirror in place removed for the low low price of only $180.

    Fucking highway (railway?) robbery.

    Regardless, their vehicle was loaded, and they'd made the train, all 11 of them. The Suburban is a big ride.

    Finally, it was time to board. We got on the train (at last!) and went up a set of cramped stairs that wound around to the second floor of our car.

    Our little sleeping roomette was up there and we had a look at our digs for the next 18 hours. There was a long couch that ran the width of the roomette. To the right was a sink, 52 mirrors, and behind all that, a toilet that double as (gulp) a shower.

    Or maybe it is a shower that doubles as a toilet. I'm sure somewhere a designer is very proud, but it still begs the question - why why why why why.

    I had no intention whatsoever of attempting a shower en route.

    Across from the couch was a jump seat. And a series of origami moves provided a table between the 'couch' and the jump seat. Obviously for card games like poker, and other gambling-oriented train activities.

    There was storage here and there, and up above, a second bunk that folded down from the ceiling. I called shotgun on this immediately.






    Amtrak train toilets are very technical.

    At this point it has to be asked - why have a shower in the toilet. Why? There was even a 'guard' over the toilet paper, ostensibly to keep it dry while one showered in the toilet.

    Why stop there? Why not have a bidet in the walk in closet? Why not a toilet in the kitchen?

    No. No. No. A hard pass, no.

    Naturally, we'd brought snacks and drinks on board, and had a few cocktails while rolling away from Lorton. We chose the 7:00 pm dinner, and at the appointed time, made our way to the dining car. We were paired with 'Skip' and his wife 'Skipper', from New Jersey.

    Mrs. Flusher and I both opted for the flat iron steak, and it was pretty good. Dinner and breakfast is included in the ticket, and wine is included with dinner.




    We'd arranged with the porter to make up our bunks while at dinner, and this is how it looks. The bottom couch folds out to a one-and-a-half bunk, and the upper bunk drops down. A stairway to heaven appears as if by magic, taking a page out of Jimmy's book.



    We settled in and slept as best we could.

    Best advice I can give you is bring your own pillow. I made a rookie mistake. I actually brought my own pillow, and left it under the jump seat, thinking the Amtrak last spike hobo pillow would be fine.

    I was sorely mistaken.

    But the night passed, and we did get some sleep.

    In the morning, I headed to the dining car for breakfast - coffee, cereals, muffins, and the like were on the offing - as well as those same Jimmy Dean premade hot breakfast sandwiches.

    Good enough.

    The porter put our bunks away and before we knew it we were in Sanford, Florida, just north-east of Orlando.

    Our car came off the train with just a 20 minute wait or so. Some people pay for VIP service, to be the first off - it might be worth it, I suppose - but the wait didn't seem to bad to me.

    All our crap was still safely in the Tercel, and by noon we were ensconsed and ready to enjoy a Florida winter at the Greasey Palms Senior Putt Putt Trailer Park.

    The train trip is pretty pricy, around $1,500. But you save so much time (and risk) driving, wear and tear, gas money, and so on. Plus it's freaking cool to be on a James Bond From Russia With Love train trip. I'd say it is a luxury, and one worth taking. We will probably do it again, unless things go terribly wrong in Vegas this winter.

    Yes, that's still to come.

    And so is the launch (hopefully) of Artemis I, which we intend to witness in person.

    Stay tuned.








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