We left Wilkes-Barre around 5:30 p.m., Thursday. We made it to Factoryville, before we had to stop. That's not even an hour into an 18-hour trip. With two kids - one 4, the other 2 - this was going to be an interesting exercise in parental patience.
Well, we made it to just outside Washington, DC before we had to stop again. Since we were there, and I was driving and am a sucker for history and political stuff, we made a brief stop for 10:30 p.m. pictures in front of the White House. We were in Colonial Williamsburg at 2 p.m. It's a special place for my wife's family and I figured that we might as well stop there even if it is an hour or so out of the way.
So we woke up Friday morning, did about 3 hours in Williamsburg - I highly recommend the pulled pork if you ever visit Chownings Tavern - before departing around 1 p.m. That was about an hour later than I wanted it, but I wasn't too concerned. My goal was to get past Savannah, but driving all day with the kids would test my patience. Savannah would at least bring us within 6 hours of the destination.
Our first stop was in Rocky Mt., North Carolina for what I hoped to be a brief break. It lasted an hour. The day was getting away. I don't smoke and rarely drink, but I felt the need for rum.
We stopped for tacos at South of the Border - it was somehow my wife's first time there. The trek through the Carolinas hadn't been too bad because the kids were either napping or watching "Aladdin" - and I'm still singing "...genuflect. Show some respect. Down on one knee. "
After finally hitting Savannah, I thought we could make a goal to get to Jacksonville, or maybe Gainesville.
Look, there is nothing like driving through Ohio. Nothing against Ohioans, they really are a wonderful brood, but god as my witness, Ohio is a veritable hellscape of lost dreams and soul-sucking sadness. At least driving along I80 is. Maybe there are nicer parts of Ohio, but I've never seen photographic evidence.
Georgia, at night, is just as bad. Then again, I could have been tired. At this point I was like the guy in "Airplane," looking to score a high from a household item.
We stopped at the Florida Welcome station or whatever the hell it's called. I visit these things regularly - that's the type of oddball I am. It was a better one than many states. But after I did my business and about 30 jumping jacks to get the blood flowing* and a few other exercises, I got into the car. Molly went into the ladies' room and came back.
"That was a nice ladies' room, but I couldn't help but think 'This is where you die.'"
That kept me laughing most of the way to Gainsville.** At that point, it was almost 2 and I was exhausted.
"I need to stop," I said, after more than 10 hours of driving.
"You've gotten us so close," Molly said.
It was at that brief moment that life seemed not worth living.
But I soldiered on, mainly because I wasn't going to pay $200 to sleep in a room for just 4 or 5 hours. (Come back to this quote later.)
At 4 a.m. Saturday, we finally pulled up to our hotel. It wasn't the fanciest. We're gonna spend a day at Universal Studios so that we can visit Harry Potter stuff, so we went a bit cheaper on the hotel.
I couldn't wait to lay down, but also knew my son would wake us up around 6:30 if we were lucky.
So I pulled our mega bag - it's the bag for our 7-foot artificial Christmas tree; I don't know which one of us decided this would be better than our luggage, but they were wrong - into the room and pulled back the sheets.
I was laying on the bed when Molly screamed. There was cockroach making its way toward me. It was about the size of my thumb - not including its legs. This wasn't the only problem with the hotel. A name brand.
Needless to say, we're not staying there.
But I didn't get much sleep. The boy indeed woke up my better half. He didn't wake me up until about 9:30.
Normally, I'm terrible at waking up. But I thought about the cockroach and bounded out of bed like a startled gazelle.
Then thoughts of baseball kept me going. For the boy, it was sharks. He kept wanting to see sharks.
We decided we'd see the Clearwater Marine Aqarium today. But first the Phillies.
So yeah, this is my first time in Clearwater.
It's amazing. First of all, you can't even decide what you want to watch. On one field Zach Eflin is pitching to Ryan Howard, Odubel Herrera and Miguel Franco. You want to see this. It's Eflin in person and you like his numbers and you want to see what he's got. But you also know it's a spring training workout and he might be working on something so you're not really seeing him at his competitive best.
What's on the other fields.
Oh, hey, it's Tyler Goeddel taking some rips. You're curious about him.
OhMyGOD, it's CRAWFORD.
This you watch. He ropes a couple of balls the other way. The swing looks nice. Better in person than on video. No wonder the scouts drool.
What's going on at the other cage? You walk over, but The Boy is climbing the bleachers and annoying everyone around you. So you go back to Howard and Co. On the way, Andrew Knapp signs your daughter's sweater. Her first big league autograph. Though technically, well, we'll count it.
After an hour or so, the kids are getting restless and it's time to hit the aquarium.
On our way, we stopped outside the rightfield fence to see if anyone would hit a homer. One of the coaches tossed my son a ball.
Later, my daughter ran to the fence where another one sat inside it, just out of reach. Over came the Big Piece.
"Oh, I like your shoes," the Howard said to her.
I laughed and told her to say thank you.
We briefly chatted, then he asked if she had a ball. I said her brother did. So he tossed one to me to give to her.
I've got to be honest, I've had interactions - as a fan and a few as a journalist too - with a lot of Phillies over the years. Each time I've met Howard, he was genuinely nice and appreciative to fans.
At the 2009 home opener, I saw him sign autographs from inside the players parking lot with fans for a good amount of time.
Today, he chatted with a couple of other dads and ball hawks.
It was a great start to the day and trip. The visit to the aquarium was excellent. We did the marine life tour, which took us out on a boat. A staffer and two volunteers dropped a net and caught some fish. We saw some dolphins out on the open waters. Then the boat took us out to a little man-made island. I'd say it was as big as an infield if you include the cutout.
We capped the evening with a visit to Frenchy's Original Cafe. Try the grouper sandwich. Then we walked out on Pier 60.
Now I'm exhausted again in our new hotel and the wife and kids are sleeping behind me.
It's time to go to bed.
This time without the cockroaches.
Oh, and I still haven't gotten any rum.
* I like long drives, but I'm terrified of dying because of a blood clot.
** They talk about State College being in the Middle of Nowhere. Let me tell you, driving to Gainsville is like trying to get the Ring to Mount Damn Doom. We stopped at a gas station and there was a bar across the street. They had been the only signs of life in about 30 miles. When we were leaving the gas station, there were about five sheriff's cars waiting for people. This was Trump's America.
State College kicks Gainsville's ass.