Kansas City to Orlando to Cocoa Beach

In 2009, Local TV LLC. required each employee to take two weeks of unpaid leave, a furlough, to which I cheered joyously. I didn't care about the loss of income. I didn't have to go to work, and that's all that mattered. So I chose a short vacation to Florida's Space Coast.

For some reason, I wear my Fox 4 "soccer jersey" on the flight from KCI to Orlando. The security woman asks if I know Anne Peterson-- wrong station, wrong time in history. On the plane, the flight attendants ask if I know (name already forgotten). Then they realize my shirt says Fox 4; they were thinking of Fox 5 in Atlanta.

Line of the day from the pilot, as he accelerates for takeoff: "I'm going to Disney World! Wheeeee!"
Line of the day #2 from the pilot: "I don't know if it is Air Tran policy, but you probably shouldn't climb over the beverage cart. You'll embarrass us all."

The monorail at Orlando Int'l Airport is not nearly as rickety as the monorail at DFW. Remember, mono means one, and rail means rail!

My path from Orlando to Cocoa Beach involves taking the Bee Line Expressway. Or maybe itís Beachline. I forget. Being a cheapskate traveler, I'm renting a Ford Focus again. It makes my Stratus feel like a race car by comparison. I'm listening to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers radio network. The play-by-play announcer has a classic smoker's voice. Alamo has also provided me with Sirius satellite radio, so when halftime arrives, I disappear from the FM band for a few days.

Entering Cocoa Beach, I count a strip club roughly every four blocks. This is the real Magic Kingdom.

My Fox 4 shirt comes into play again. At the grocery store, someone mistakenly thinks I work for FOX, the network, and asks if I get to see the season premieres in advance. I do. In the parking lot, someone approaches me and says "put me on TV! I can describe what the tornado sounded like!" I tell him to give the station a call when that happens. Finally, at the bar, two people buy me drinks mistakenly thinking I work for Fox News Channel in New York. They wonder if I know Megyn Kelly (FNC anchor). I mention something about working opposite shifts. Walking from the bar back to my room I encounter two people making out in the middle of the street. The woman is half out of her top. The man spots me and yells "how's it hanging, bro!" I reply "not nearly as well as the two of you."

Kennedy Space Center

Today I go to the Kennedy Space Center. But first, I watch a little of Fox 35's morning news. Sabrina Fein -- wow.

The KSC has a lot of attractions (and souvenirs) for everybody. I'm disappointed they don't sell shot glasses in the shape of a rocket or shuttle. The newest, and best attraction, is the Shuttle Launch Experience. Strap yourself into a simulation capsule, then experience the high fidelity forces and noises associated with the liftoff of the space shuttle. It's not as frightening as it sounds. But it's still very neat. You start at four minutes to liftoff facing horizontal. I'll place the starting position at zero degrees. Once strapped in, the capsule pitches 90 degrees up. Then the shaking begins. The capsule vibrates violently back and forth as the engines and boosters are activated. After liftoff, gaining speed and altitude, I felt my face stretching backward. When the external tank separates, the capsule jerks down toward zero degrees to simulate the shuttle reaching zero gravity. They also simulate one malfunction during liftoff. However, they don't include the landing (I wondered why they kept calling me Major Tom). I apologize for the lack of pictures. They did not allow loose objects inside the capsule. If I had snapped a photo, it would've been a blur anyway.

Speaking of landing, I picked a great day to visit the KSC because the space shuttle was returning on the back of a 747. Of course, when it happened, I had the worst possible angle-- indoors. When I ran outside, I caught a glimpse of the jet and the shuttle before it disappeared behind the tree line.

The shuttles spend part of their downtime upright in a hangar that is over 50 stories tall on the outside, but one story on the inside. This is one of the most voluminous one-story buildings in the world. The American flag is painted on the side. Each star, from tip to tip, is as tall as I am. We also pass the vehicle used to transport the shuttle (upright) from hangar to launch pad. It's gigantic, and it travels at one mile per hour.

Old rocket in hangar

The KSC includes a lot of wildlife. Little salamanders and scrub lizards scurry about the grounds. I spot a bald eagle, then later, a bald eagle's nest. The nest is large enough to hold two humans. We also see a dead bobcat on the road during the bus portion of the tour, and a turtle holding up traffic. After five hours at the Space Center, I return to my room and hit the beach.

I'm a little wiped out, so I spend the evening indoors. I must confess, when I watch Heroes, I wince slightly when the Claire character deliberately does something that would be fatal to everyone else. In this case -- falling out of a third story window and splattering on the sidewalk.

It's news time, and all the Orlando stations are reporting about a murder in Isleworth, the same neighborhood where Tiger Woods and Shaquille O'Neal live. This story has potential.

Space Coast

This morning I decide to hike near Titusville. I select a trail boastful of its wildlife. But of course, all I see are those little scrub lizards. At the very end of the trail, at the last possible meter, I encountered a tortoise.

Tortoise in action

In the afternoon I visit the Cape Canaveral Sea Shore and a nearby river. In the river, I spot four manatees. Manatees don't cooperate for pictures since they barely surface for air. But I watch them for an hour. It appears to be a bull, a female and two calves. The calves are very active, pretending to fight. Occasionally, the calves ride piggy back with mom. The bull circles and rolls by himself. He has some serious boat scars.

While I make dinner, every Orlando station doubles up on the Isleworth shooting, which took place in a $3.5 million home. Apparently the homeowner killed his wife. The homeowner also owes $65 million to a broad selection of people and organizations, including the Atlanta Braves. His company, Land Resources LLC. (a company Linda Wagar would tear to shreds) has $990,000 in assets.

Later I capture some nice sunset pictures. The hospital had the best view, so I hope they didn't mind when I parked my rental car Frank Drebin-style next to the emergency room.


Return home

Okay, this is the return day, so I don't have much planned. I visit the town of Cocoa Village, which claims to have a historic downtown. Most of the shops are boutiques, antique stores, boutiques that sell antiques, and the occasional lawyer/abogado office. I meander into a record store and look through the clearance bin. I spot many albums that should never have been produced, much less be on sale for $1. Saga? The Firm? Firefall? Uh, no. Back at the airport security line, I see a woman who could pass for Gwenyth Paltrow's twin. And she's walking toward the British Airways terminals, hmm... What I like about KCI: I can land, and without checked luggage, walk outside to the economy parking lot shuttle bus within a minute. And tonight's sunset in Kansas City almost rivals the Florida sunset. Almost.